SALT LAKE CITY — A majority of Utahns approve of how President Donald Trump has responded to the coronavirus outbreak, though they are sharply divided along party lines.

But in somewhat of a disconnect, nearly half say the federal government acted too late and didn’t do enough to slow the spread of the deadly infection, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

Also, Utah residents overwhelming approve of state government’s response to the pandemic, seeing it as both appropriate and timely. And Democrats and Republicans aren’t as far apart on the Utah response as they are to the federal reaction.

Alex Cochran

The survey showed 58% of registered voters in the state approve of Trump’s performance regarding the pandemic, while 38% disapprove.

The difference in opinion, though, is stark between Republicans and Democrats. The right has praised Trump’s handling of the crisis and the left has vilified him, which is reflected in the poll results.

According to the poll, 79% of Utah Republicans approve of the president’s response, while 17% disapprove. Among Democrats in the state, 78% disapprove and 20% approve.

Approval of the president’s response does not mean people think he did everything right, said pollster Scott Rasmussen.

“It is possible to believe he and the government were a bit slow getting started but have done a good job since,” he said.

Rasmussen polled 979 Utah registered voters on March 23-28. The survey has margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Utahns apparently see a distinction between Trump — who maintains a solid job approval rating in the state — and the federal government when it comes to dealing with COVID-19.

Interestingly, 49% of Utahns say the federal government didn’t act soon enough to slow the spread of coronavirus across the country. Another 38% believe the government acted appropriately and in a timely manner.

Only 6% say the government overreacted and put too many restrictions in place, which is one area where Republicans and Democrats share the same opinion. But 78% of Democrats say the government reacted too slowly, while 55% of Republicans say the response was appropriate and timely.

Rasmussen said people do not fully equate the president and the federal government, noting many of his voters view him as the one to take on the entrenched bureaucracy.

As for Utah, 81% of residents approve of the state’s response to the outbreak, while only 17% disapprove. The poll also found that 65% say the state acted appropriately and in a timely manner, while 27% believe Utah’s reaction was too late and didn’t do enough to slow the spread of the disease. Only 7% say say the state overreacted and put too many restrictions in place.

Residents were less divided along party lines when it comes to the state response compared to the federal response, with 88% of Republicans and 69% of Democrats approving of how Utah reacted to the crisis.

While most Western states have issued stay-at-home orders, Utah has not. Though the restrictions in place are similar to other stay-at-home orders.

Last Friday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced a directive for people to stay home through April 13. He said the next two weeks will be critical as the state ramps up testing from 2,000 people a day to 7,000 a day to slow the transmission rate and keep from overwhelming the health care system.

“We’re doing better than most states at this stage of the game,” Herbert said Monday, adding that Utah is about two weeks behind the rest of the country.

Salt Lake County, though, went a step further with an order taking effect Monday for people to stay home, except to engage in essential activities and to work to provide essential business, infrastructure and/or governmental services. Summit County issued a stay-at-home order effective March 27 and neighboring Wasatch County is following suit starting Wednesday.

The poll also found that an overwhelming majority of Utahns — more than 86% — support employees beings encouraged to work at home, suspension of professional and college sports, bans on large gatherings, school closures, cancellation of religious services and closing dine-in service at restaurants.

Direct government payments to individuals and families, relief to businesses that provide paid time off to hourly workers and insurance company waivers of co-payment for COVID-19 treatment also drew strong approval, more than 86% in each case.

Utahns, however, are a little less supportive of government providing aid to airlines and cruise lines with 64% approving that measure and 29% disapproving.

In Utah, confirmed COVID-19 cases numbered 806 as of Monday, with four deaths. More than 16,000 Utahns have been tested. There are more 158,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths nationwide, according to Worldometer, a website that provides world statistics.

On Sunday, Trump backed away from his Easter target date to relax social distancing guidelines and extended them through at least April.

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Trump initially downplayed the virus. On Jan 30, the day the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency, the president tweeted that it was “very well under control.”

The Associated Press reported that outside observers and federal health officials have pointed to four primary issues that hampered the national response — the early decision not to use the test adopted by the WHO, flaws with the more complex test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, government guidelines restricting who could be tested and delays in engaging the private sector to increase testing capacity.

Combined with messaging from the White House that fueled a lackluster response, there were missed chances to slow the spread of the virus, they said. 

“There were many, many opportunities not to end up where we are,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard, told the AP. “Basically, they took this as business as usual. ... And that’s because the messaging from the White House was ‘this is not a big deal, this is no worse than the flu.’ So that message basically created no sense of urgency within the FDA or the CDC to fix it.”

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