Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have studied how Americans’ attitudes toward health experts influence their health behaviors and policy opinions. Fewer, however, consider the potential gap between individual and expert opinion about COVID-19, and how that might shape health attitudes and behavior. This omission is notable, as discrepancies between individual and expert opinion could help explain why some Americans fail to take action to protect themselves and others from the virus. In novel demographically representative surveys of the US adult population (N = 5,482) and primary care physician subpopulations (PCPs; N = 625), we contrast the relationship between: (1) Americans’ and (2) PCPs’ preferences regarding who ought to be responsible for taking action to combat the spread of COVID-19, as well as (3) Americans’ perceptions of PCP preferences (“PCP meta-opinion”). In the aggregate, we find that Americans are far less likely than PCPs to see a role for both private and state actors in taking action to combat COVID-19. Interestingly, though, this disjuncture is not reflected in individual-level PCP meta-opinion; as most Americans think that PCPs share their views on state and private intervention (τb = 0.44 – 0.49). However, this consonance is often erroneous, which we show can have problematic health consequences. Multivariate models suggest that Americans who both see little place for individual responsibility in taking action to stop viral spread and who think that PCPs share those views are significantly less likely to vaccinate against COVID-19. We conclude by discussing the public health benefits of efforts to bring public opinion in line with expert opinion.
Available online 20 February 2023