Sociologist leads national survey on impact of COVID-19

CoronaData U.S.

is a daily nationally representative surveyof U.S. public opinions, behaviors and attitudes related to the COVID-19 pandemic assembled by an interdisciplinary team of Northwestern University social scientists.

Led by Beth Redbird, assistant professor of sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, the “COVID-19 Social Change Survey” asks, for example, how isolated respondents feel, how they are preparing, whether they think the pandemic is a hoax and whether they think the crisis is fostering a sense of solidarity or community.

The research team collects data daily, and has thousands of responses so far. Once the pandemic peaks, they will retool the survey to focus more on what it’s like to live in an isolated world and what actions people think the country should take in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The team can already see trends developing nationally and in individual states. Just to name a few:

  • There is no evidence of a pending baby boom, as people under stay-at-home orders are experiencing more stress and fighting with their partners.
  • African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to know someone who is sick or has died from COVID-19.
  • Women are engaging in more social distancing behaviors, possibly because they are more likely to be caring for children and elder parents.
  • There is no evidence that we are pulling together as a country. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, as we are less likely to believe America is exceptional and patriotism has declined.

The survey, which is administered to 200 people every day, takes approximately 20 minutes to complete. The researchers wanted an oversample of people over age 55 since that population is at higher risk of COVID-19.

Data preservation about the government response to the crisis also is a component of the survey project.

“The response has been really decentralized,” said Redbird, a faculty fellow with Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. “It’s been led by counties and mayors and city managers. And it’s difficult to map that – to know where and when there are shutdowns, or a ban on crowd sizes. Where events have been canceled, and where politicians are taking this seriously and where they are not.”

The research team registered for email newsletters from local government offices across the country. They also follow these offices on social media, Redbird said, “so we could preserve the information about what’s going on at the local level, so that eventually, when it’s all over, we can go back and map that.”

The researchers have built a web database to house their findings alongside top-level summaries of the results. With its interdisciplinary nature, the research team is uniquely situated to explore not just how people are responding to the crisis, but how they’re coping and handling the upheaval it has caused.

“This information is important for policy,” Redbird said. “How people are behaving, how they feel and what they think is just as important as whether people are filing for unemployment. How we support people through isolation and social change matters to their long-term well-being.”

In addition to Redbird, Northwestern researchers include political science professors Tabitha Bonilla, James Druckman and Laurel Harbridge-Yong; psychology professor David Neil Rapp; anthropology professors Christopher Kuzawa, Thomas McDade, Sera Young; Medill professor Rachel Davis Mersey;and sociology professors Wendy Griswold and Andrew Papachristos.

The project is funded by a National Science Foundation Rapid Research Response Grant and Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

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