Donald Trump announced early this morning that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Details are still emerging about his condition—so far, he has reportedly exhibited only minor symptoms of COVID-19—but his diagnosis illustrates the dangers of disregarding the virus's threat: The president has routinely downplayed it, which has inspired many of his supporters to do the same. One might hope that the fact of the president’s illness might persuade supporters of his to take the pandemic more seriously, but when I consulted experts on conspiracism and misinformation, they seemed doubtful that that will happen.
In early June, a Pew Research Center survey found that 63 percent of Republicans believed that the severity of the pandemic had been overstated, compared with 18 percent of Democrats. Joseph Uscinski, a political-science professor at the University of Miami, told me today that he thinks Americans’ perceptions of the pandemic are “largely set.”
Surveys he’s conducted indicate that the share of the population that believes the pandemic’s threats are “exaggerated by political groups who want to damage President Trump” barely budged from March to June. Uscinski and other experts whom I consulted don’t think Trump’s positive test will be the thing to change those calcified views—if indeed anything could. John Banas, a communication professor at the University of Oklahoma, said that many of Trump’s supporters “have already committed to the position that it is somewhere between a hoax and a mild virus,” and this new information is unlikely to sway them.