COVID-19 risk perception and hoax beliefs in the US immediately before and after the announcement of President Trump's diagnosis.
A notable challenge of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has been public scepticism over the severity of the disease, or even its existence. Such scepticism is politically skewed in the USA, with conservatives more likely to downplay or deny the risks of the virus. However, the hospitalization of President Trump with COVID-19 in October 2020 served as a high-profile exemplar of the reality and risks of the virus, and as such may have influenced opinions, particularly for US conservatives. We investigate whether President Trump testing positive was associated with changes in public attitudes towards the virus. In two studies, we surveyed independent representative US samples before and after the announcement of Trump's illness. In Study 1, measuring risk perceptions of the virus, we find that participants surveyed before and after the announcement did not differ in their risk perception regardless of political orientation. In Study 2, measuring belief that the virus is a hoax, we find that among those on the far right of the political spectrum, hoax belief was lower for those surveyed after the announcement, suggesting that Trump's hospitalization may have affected the beliefs of those most receptive to the President's earlier suggestions that the virus might be a hoax.