Optimism in Face of Crisis: Washingtonians Surveyed About Coronavirus

History is filled with examples of people expressing support and resolve in times of crisis. The reaction to the coronavirus is no different. That’s a key theme in a recent survey* of Washingtonians Quinn Thomas conducted in partnership with DHM Research. From senior citizens suffering the biggest health impacts, to young people suffering financially, there is a general sense that we’re all in this together.

Despite devastating economic conditions, 55 percent of survey respondents said Washington is heading in the right direction. This is 15 percentage points higher than our last survey in December 2019.

This figure is buoyed by Washingtonians faith in their key institutions. Residents give stellar marks to hospitals and clinics (81% say coronavirus response excellent or good), Washington Health Care Authority, our state health agency (66%), and to the job Gov. Inslee is doing (62%). And with 90 percent of residents social distancing, people feel the responsibility to do their part to get through this together.

Feeling the Financial Pinch

Despite a sense of optimism, residents are experiencing real economic challenges.

Nearly one in four survey respondents (24%) report they or somebody in their household have lost their job due to public health measures brought about by the coronavirus. Thirty-eight percent report they or somebody in their household have either lost their job or suffered a pay cut.

Unfortunately, the financial pain is skewed toward those aged 18 to 29. Thirty-seven percent say they or somebody in their household have lost their job. Further, 65 percent say they or somebody in their household have either lost their job or taken a pay cut – 65 percent! Perhaps as a result, over half of the young respondents (51%) say they will need help making their rent or mortgage payment. Fifty-five percent say they’ll need help paying for basics, like food, medicine, and utilities. It also explains why 73 percent of them report they’ll spend their $1,200 stimulus check on basics like food, housing, and utilities. This contributes to a general financial anxiety. Sixty-nine percent of young respondents are worried about their personal financial situation, 28 percentage points higher than those over age 65.

Housing Security

The impacts of coronavirus on job security and residents’ finances are cascading to other parts of the economy – notably housing. Pre-coronavirus, Washington was already in the midst of a housing crunch. The current crisis is adding another layer of pressure and uncertainty to the situation.

Thirty-one percent of residents state they will need help covering their rent or mortgage. Twenty-eight percent say they will reduce or stop making payments toward loans, including mortgages. Those under the most stress are young people and those making under $50,000.

Recent news reports show housing providers and renters are working together to get through the crisis. Both are calling for additional assistance from the government to help keep people in their homes. Our survey indicates Washingtonians think all three hold equal responsibility to keep renters housed. Fifty-nine percent say renters bear “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of responsibility, a number statistically identical to responses for housing providers (61%), and the government (60%). This sentiment tracks for homeowners too, although Washingtonians place slightly more responsibility on homeowners – 63 percent of survey respondents say homeowners bear “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of responsibility in protecting their housing. Fifty-six percent say the government does.

Marketing + Communications in the Age of Coronavirus

Businesses have been struggling with advertising in an environment where coronavirus has wholly captured the public’s attention. As communicators, we are very interested in reaching audiences and moving them to action. Knowing what to say and how to say it takes research – so that’s what we did.

An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (75%) told us it’s important to keep the economy moving. They’re encouraged to see businesses advertising. So, assuming it fits into their current reality, businesses should feel like they’re on solid ground to continue marketing and advertising. And people are paying attention – 36 percent report they’re more likely to pay attention to advertising right now, and 45 percent say they’re paying attention at the same rate they were before the coronavirus.

On the public relations front, it’ll come as no surprise that local TV news continues to be best way to reach local audiences. Fifty-one percent cite it as the source they use for coronavirus news on a daily basis, followed by national cable networks (46%), social media (32%), and newspapers (27%).

In terms of content and tone, a slight majority (53%) believe businesses should acknowledge the current crisis in their advertising. This isn’t overwhelming creative direction, but it’s something to acknowledge. We gave respondents six words that can provide businesses with direction on message and tone. We asked them which three they think should be used in advertising right now. They are Support (76%), Empathy (49%), Leadership (40%), Trust (34%), Sadness (3%), and Anger (2%).

There it is, again – support – a sentiment that demonstrates we are all in this together. For all the economic pain Washingtonians are experiencing, there appears to be a deep optimism that will propel us forward when the current crisis ends.

*Statewide survey of 502 Washingtonians was conducted online between April 1-6, 2020.