Americans Are Not Happy With the CDC’s Communication Skills, Poll Finds

Americans Are Not Happy With the CDC’s Communication Skills, Poll Finds
A view of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's Edward R. Roybal campus in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP, Getty Images)

A new Gallup poll this week indicates that Americans aren’t too pleased lately with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that a plurality of people in the U.S. now think that the CDC is doing a poor job at communicating its pandemic response. Though this isn’t the first time the CDC has gotten a failing mark in these polls, it reflects a large shift in public opinion over the summer of 2021.

The nationally representative poll has been run regularly by Gallup since June 2020. It asks participants if they feel the CDC has communicated “a clear plan of action in response to the covid-19 situation.” Participants are also asked about the current president’s communication skills regarding the pandemic, as well as those of their state governors.

In June 2021, 42% agreed that the CDC was doing a good job of clear communication (the highest percentage ever recorded for this poll), compared to 31% who disagreed. But by mid-August, this had completely switched around, with 41% not being fans of the CDC’s communication, compared to 32% who still felt it was doing a good job. Similarly, for the first time he took office in January 2021, more people disagreed (42%) than agreed (40%) that President Joe Biden was good at communicating his plan of action against the pandemic.

During the Trump administration, both Trump and the CDC consistently received lower marks for communication than Biden and his CDC has. But the change in opinion seen in this latest round may reflect frustration with the agency over its messaging of late. Gallup writer Jeffrey Jones notes that this is the first poll taken since the CDC shifted its recommendations for mask-wearing in late July; it now advises that vaccinated people mask up inside public spaces in areas where transmission of the coronavirus is high.

The recommendation was changed in response to yet another resurgence of the pandemic within the U.S. this summer, led by the emergence of the more transmissible Delta variant. Vaccinated and previously infected people continue to have strong protection against serious illness from Delta, and this latest surge of hospitalizations and deaths is concentrated among the unvaccinated. But the surge has met or surpassed the numbers seen during the summer 2020 peak, and hospitals have once again been stretched thin or overwhelmed by those sick with covid-19.

Middling vaccination rates have contributed to the summer 2021 peak being as bad as it has been, along with the many bad actors who have deliberately fostered the spread of anti-vaccination beliefs. But some public health experts and scientists have criticised the CDC and the Biden administration for not doing enough to see this latest wave coming and for mixed messaging as Delta began to spread within the U.S. Even within the administration, there has reportedly been tension about the best way to communicate to the public during this time.

The growth in new cases and hospitalizations appears to be slowing down, suggesting that the peak is finally running out of steam. And Biden is reportedly preparing to give a speech this Thursday outlining the administration’s new strategy against Delta as the fall arrives and children are returning to school. Whether these actions and policies will be enough to prevent another serious surge of the pandemic remains to be seen.