COVID Response Tracking Study

In an ongoing study funded by the National Science Foundation, NORC at the University of Chicago is conducting a nationally representative longitudinal study to understand Americans' beliefs, mental health, and outlook before, during and after the coronavirus outbreak.

The surveys are being conducted online and over the phone in English and Spanish with 2,000 respondents using AmeriSpeak— NORC’s probability-based panel. Using innovative methods, this study compares current beliefs to Americans’ responses to prior national tragedies as well as nearly 50 years of prior data collected in the General Social Survey.

Findings from the first wave of 2020 data suggest that the unique and unprecedented coronavirus crisis is having a negative impact on the well-being of Americans and the public is reacting differently than after other national tragedies.

The results from the first survey and the historical context reveals a unique impact of the outbreak: an all-time low in people saying they are very happy combined with an all-time high in people saying they are satisfied with their family’s financial situation. Finally, exposure to the coronavirus either personally or geographically in a highly-impacted area is linked with greater feelings of loneliness and other negative emotional states.

Results from the second wave of 2020 data suggest that all American adults have experienced at least one economic impact of the pandemic, but Black, Hispanic, and younger Americans have been particularly likely to face such economic hardships. Moreover, the study shows such economic impacts from the pandemic are closely linked with poor mental health. In addition to responding to the coronavirus, a majority of Americans are experiencing deeply negative emotions regarding the killing of George Floyd by the police on May 25. The responses to Floyd’s killing and the economic hardships related to the pandemic are having independent effects on health and well-being.

Findings from the third wave of 2020 data indicate that although the public’s well-being took a historic hit earlier in the pandemic, over the course of the summer mental health has neither deteriorated further nor improved. The latest data also illuminate large health disparities in Americans’ rates of experiencing 15 different psychosomatic symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. Younger adults, women, those with lower income or lower educational attainment, and those who often watch, read, or talk about the coronavirus report higher rates of various symptoms, compared to other groups.

The research team will continue to analyze and share the results of this study to characterize Americans’ responses to the pandemic and how they may be changing over time.