U.S. adults highly value the role of public health departments and the services they provide, according to a new national poll conducted by Morning Consult with the de Beaumont Foundation.

Nearly all adults (92%) said public health departments play an important role in creating a healthy community. When asked to choose the organization that plays the most important role, respondents chose public health departments over hospitals, schools, businesses, police departments, parks, fire departments, and libraries.

Notably, in a 2020 poll de Beaumont conducted with Public Opinion Strategies, 73% said health departments play an important role, up from 56% in 2018. And in the 2020 Public Opinion Strategies poll, respondents ranked the importance of public health departments below that of hospitals, schools, fire departments, and police departments.

Health Officials: Familiarity and Favorability

Despite extensive coverage of protests, harassment, and threats against local public health officials, a strong majority of U.S. adults have a favorable impression of their local health official. In fact, among the respondents who said they’re familiar with their local health official, 68% had a favorable opinion.

More than half (57%) said they are familiar with their local health department, compared with 44% who said they’re familiar with their local health official. Among those who are familiar with their local health official, 68% have a favorable opinion, 8% said they have an unfavorable opinion, and 24% answered “don’t know.”

Public Health Services

A majority of adults say it’s important for their local health department to provide all nine of the services tested. When asked which service is most important, respondents ranked them in this order:

  • 21% Reach out to people who are at greatest risk of having poor health outcomes
  • 15% Work together with the broader healthcare system
  • 11% Work to improve other local community services
  • 11% Ensure environmental health
  • 10% Stop the spread of communicable diseases, such as COVID-19 (version A)
  • 7% Bring other in government together
  • 6% Establish prevention programs
  • 6% Stop the spread of communicable diseases (version B)
  • 5% Work with partners to help create strong local policies

Funding Priorities

  • Three-quarters of adults (76%) say it is a high priority for their state’s government to ensure that every community within their state receive all of the tested public health services.
  • A third of adults (31%) say that funding future pandemic prevention efforts should be the most important priority.
  • Two-thirds of adults (63%) say they support an increase in corporate taxes for public health services, including 36% who said they strongly support an increase. They were much less supportive of increasing property, state, or local taxes, with more than one-third strongly opposing them.

Summary of Findings

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Morning Consult conducted a poll between May 14 and May 17, 2021, among a sample of 2,200 adults. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on gender, educational attainment, age, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Public Opinion Strategies conducted surveys the first week of September 2018 and the second week of July 2020. The sample was drawn randomly from state voter files, with state-specific sample size determined by individual votersʼ selection probability proportional to size of the state voter population, relative to the national population of registered voters. Quotas were set by specific demographics such as state, region, age, gender, and ethnicity based on data from the U.S. Census and voter files to ensure the sample was representative of the registered voter population nationally. Interviews were conducted by phone using CATI software with trained live interviewers. Nonresponse weights were used to adjust the resulting estimates to be nationally representative. Overall, 1,800 individuals participated in the two polls—1,000 in 2018 and 800 in 2020.

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