Voters in swing states are sharply divided along partisan lines over the coronavirus pandemic with just under six months to go before Election Day, according to a new CNBC/Change Research poll. 

Democrats and Republicans in the key electoral states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin disagree over whether there is likely to be a second wave of Covid-19 cases and who is to blame if there is. 

Republicans were far more likely to say that corporations should be shielded from liability if their customers or employees contract the virus and sue, while Democrats said they were taking more precautions, such as wearing masks and avoiding restaurants. 

The survey polled 5,408 likely voters in battleground states from Friday to Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points. 

The data sheds new light on the battle between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, which is being waged in the shadow of the worst public health crisis in living memory. 

Some of the data in the survey is good news for the president.

In a hypothetical match-up, Trump holds a narrow, 48%-46% lead over Biden among all the battleground voters surveyed, including a 41%-32% lead among independents. He also leads Biden 51%-40% in who would do a better job handling the economy. The two are in a statistical tie over who would do a better job handling coronavirus.

But the survey results also showed that independents are far more likely than Trump to be concerned about a potential second wave in coronavirus infections and will blame Trump if it does. 

Among both Democrats and independents, the most common word used in responses to the survey was “incompetent.” In contrast, Republicans used words like “good,” “great,” “best,” and “excellent.” 

Second-wave worries

Democrats and independent voters in the swing states are far more likely than Republicans to be pessimistic about the prospects of containing the pandemic. 

While 71% of Republicans think that things are getting better, only 12% of Democrats and 35% of independents think the same, with two-thirds of Democrats and 42% of independents thinking things are getting worse. Nearly 8 in 10 Democrats say they have “very serious” concerns about coronavirus, while only 1 in 10 Republicans thinks the same. 

Those views are consistent with a partisan divide in concern about a possible second wave in infections.

Public health experts have warned of a possible resurgence in Covid-19 cases once containment measures are eased. Some Asian nations have already experienced an uptick in infections that in some cases have caused authorities to reimpose restrictions. Trump has projected optimism, pledging that a vaccine will be distributed by the end of the year and that Covid-19 will “go away” eventually even if there is no vaccine. 

The divergence in views is stark: 99% of Democrats say that there is at least a 50-50 chance of a second wave in U.S. infections before the end of the year, with 94% telling pollsters that it will probably or definitely happen. On the other hand, 38% of Republicans said a second wave will probably or definitely not appear, with 41% saying there’s a 50-50 chance. 

More than 8 in 10 independents see at least a 50-50 chance of a second wave this year, with 37% saying there will definitely be one and 19% saying it is probable. 

If there is a second wave, swing-state voters are divided over who should be blamed. Democrats overwhelmingly said the two people or groups most responsible would be Trump and states that reopened their economies too soon, while Republicans said it would be the fault of China and Democrats.

In a possibly worrisome sign for the president, a plurality of independents agreed with Democrats and said it would be mostly Trump and the states’ fault, though by a less significant margin. 

Republicans side with Trump on masks

Trump has refused to wear a mask in public — even while visiting a factory making masks and despite the fact that he has said he is taking an unproven anti-malarial drug to prevent infection

The survey shows that Trump is not alone among Republicans. Less than half of Republicans said they are wearing a face mask in public, while more than 9 in 10 Democrats said they were doing so. Sixty-three percent of independents also said they were wearing a face mask in public. 

Republicans also have less favorable views of those who wear masks in public. While 92% of Democrats said they had somewhat or very favorable views of people who wear face masks in public, only about 1 in 4 Republicans said the same thing. More than 3 in 10 Republicans said they have somewhat or very unfavorable views of people who wear masks in public, compared with 1% of Democrats. 

Among independents, 50% expressed somewhat or very favorable views of mask-wearers, and 21% had unfavorable views. 

Democrats and independents are more likely than Republicans to take other steps in response to the coronavirus as well, including hand washing, avoiding restaurants, canceling trips, delaying large purchases and storing food. 

Republicans are more likely to approve of people protesting stay-at-home orders. About three-quarters of Republicans have somewhat or very favorable views of the protesters, in comparison with just 4% of Democrats.

Independents view the protesters less favorably than Republicans and more favorably than Democrats, with 38% saying they have somewhat or very favorable views and 46% expressing somewhat or very unfavorable views. 

Should businesses be protected from lawsuits?

Democrats and Republicans in the swing states disagree about whether businesses should be protected from lawsuits brought by their employees and customers who contract Covid-19. 

Businesses have been pushing for liability protection from coronavirus lawsuits, and Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration have signaled their support. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNBC on Tuesday that “liability protections would be the No. 1 thing I would look at” in the next coronavirus relief bill. Last month, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said he was supportive of such a measure

In the survey, nearly 8 in 10 Democrats said that they favored allowing employees and customers to bring businesses to court if they do not take reasonable precautions against the coronavirus.

In contrast, only 13% of Republicans said the same. More than 7 in 10 Republicans said that businesses should be protected from those lawsuits in order to shield firms from financial risk. 

Independents were evenly divided on the question, 42%-42%, with 16% saying they were not sure. 

— Graphics by CNBC’s John Schoen.



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