Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

How coronavirus sentiment and behavior has changed, shown in three charts

Over the past three weeks, we've been conducting Twitter polls that gave us an interesting view in how our readers are responding to COVID-19.

I went to Starbucks, saw the post-Coronavirus future, and really didn't like it
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The news on COVID-19 is changing daily. More and more people worldwide are on lockdown, hoping against hope that they and their loved ones can survive this pandemic. Obviously, many people are freaked out. But many folks are going about their days doing their best to cope in the face of this unprecedented threat seemingly ripped from the pages of a science fiction novel.

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Except, of course, it's real.

We wanted to find out how our audience was responding to the novel coronavirus, so we turned to our favorite unscientific survey tool: Twitter.

Over the past three weeks, we polled our readers. We were curious about what precautions they were taking. Also, because of a Reuters story in early March, we wanted to see if there was a partisan aspect to this crisis and, of course, there was. Because everything is partisan these days.

Also: Pandemic preparation: Epidemiologists answer reader questions about coronavirus COVID-19

First, we'll look at overall precautions folks are taking, and then we'll take a quick look at how sentiment is split (but not as much as it was) by party.

Primary precaution

Twitter obviously has a number of design weaknesses and flaws. While it's great to be able to instantly reach out to a large audience (in this case, the fine folks who follow me at @DavidGewirtz on Twitter), from the perspective of sentiment analysis, its polling feature is missing some valuable capabilities.

In particular, respondents can only indicate one choice. In our precautions poll, we asked folks to tell us if they're working from home or social distancing or self-quarantining or ignoring it. My family, for example, is working from home and self-quarantining. We're not social distancing because we haven't left the property since March 13.

As a result, when you look at the following chart, keep in mind that respondents were essentially forced to choose one answer and one answer only. Most chose their primary precaution and since, for example, self-quarantining is more severe than working from home, we might assume that those who self-quarantine are also working from home.

We did get quite a few comments from respondents indicating they were both working from home and social distancing, so keep that in mind.

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David Gewirtz and @DavidGewirtz Twitter followers

As you can see, working from home has more than doubled in the past three weeks. Nearly half of all our respondents indicated that their primary precaution was working from home.

You might think that the week-by-week drop in social distancing is odd, but not if you take into account the fact that self-quarantining went from 2% on March 10 to more than a quarter of our responders on March 26. As I described with my situation, I'm not social distancing because I'm not going out and encountering anyone.

If you look carefully at the March 26 numbers, you can see that three-quarters of our readers are staying home, whether they describe it as working from home or self-quarantining.

Finally, look at the last segment of the chart. We started with more than a third of our readers simply ignoring the entire coronavirus crisis. Now, we're hovering between 5% and 8%, a difference that is not statistically significant.

Party affiliation

Each week, I asked my readers to indicate their party affiliation. As you can see from below, somewhere between 70% and 80% self-identify as Democrat and 20% to 30% self-identify as Republican.

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David Gewirtz and @DavidGewirtz Twitter followers

This could mean that I have a lot more liberal readers, or it could be that the topic induced more liberals to respond than conservatives. Since we know that far fewer folks are ignoring the issue this week than three weeks ago, that could account for the roughly 10% increase in GOP-identified respondents.

Sentiment by party

Finally, I wanted to see how sentiment by party has changed, particularly since the president has gotten more engaged in the crisis over the last three weeks.

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David Gewirtz and @DavidGewirtz Twitter followers

The self-identified Democrats had an interesting response curve. In the first week, it was pure 80/20, with 80% indicating they were quite worried and 20% indicating they weren't worried.

The second week, nearly all Democrats indicated they were quite worried. But something clearly changed in the third week (and it wasn't the news, for that hasn't gotten much better). The self-identified Democrats became less worried, concern dropping to its lowest (by a rounding error, to be fair) of 79%.

Self-identified Republicans took a different three-week course. In the first week, more than twice as many Republicans were not worried as were quite worried. That gap grew in the second week, with almost five times as many self-identified Republicans indicating they were not worried versus quite worried.

But then, something changed. By late last week, quite worried versus not worried was running in a virtual neck-and-neck tie, with 54% indicating quite worried and 46% not worried. The self-identified Republican sentiment changed radically. The previous week, nearly five times more people weren't worried. This week, more are quite worried than are not worried.

Hang in there

So, there you go. Let us know how you're feeling in the comments below. Personally, I'm still quite worried, but as long as there's still food in the stores, I think we'll be OK-ish. We'll all come out of this psychologically and economically scarred, but I think there's a good chance we'll get through this.

I've been encouraged by how many people are cooperating and working together to make this crisis one that's as livable as possible. Clearly, governments and the medical establishment that let supplies run low have a lot to answer for, and we have a lot of new systems to develop. The good news is that when that happens, I know we have top-notch IT folks (all of you) who will be able to lend a helping hand.

Stay safe, folks.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.