Americans are more familiar with and supportive of their local health officials than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings from a new Morning Consult poll commissioned by de Beaumont. The nationally representative poll found that 60% of U.S. adults are familiar with their local public health department and 51% with their local public health official, and among those who are familiar, 70% have a favorable opinion of their local health official – all notable increases from 2021 and 2022.
“The shared pandemic experience seems to have driven deeper familiarity with and support of public health departments and officials, along with a stronger understanding of the important role of public health in keeping families well,” said Brian C. Castrucci, DrPH, president and CEO of de Beaumont. “Importantly, the level of familiarity and support is not waning with time, but continues to rise.”
Support for Public Health Crosses Party Lines
While some leaders have tried to politicize public health recommendations and pandemic mitigation measures, most people who are familiar with their local health official have a favorable view of them, and this crosses party lines. The poll found that among those who are familiar, 75% of Democrats hold a favorable view of their local health official, as do 68% of Republicans and 62% of Independents.
A Broader Set of Priority Health Topics
Public health topics beyond infectious diseases are moving to the forefront, the poll shows. Between 2021 and 2023, the percentage of respondents who said future pandemic prevention should be the top priority of health departments decreased from 31% to 17%.
Respondents’ top priorities for public health departments are:
- conducting research on cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases (18%);
- preventing future pandemics (17%);
- fighting the opioid epidemic (16%); and
- addressing racial disparities in health care and health outcomes (15%)
A Deeper Understanding of Community Health
Increasingly, Americans are recognizing the effects of community-level influences on people’s individual health, the poll results show. These influences include factors like access to good health care services, environmental characteristics like clean air and water, and the neighborhood where a person lives. Between 2021 and 2023, the proportion of respondents who said individual health behavior choices were the strongest determinant of a person’s health decreased from 63% to 54%.
“Health is a function of both communities and individuals,” said Dr. Castrucci. “Through greater public awareness of the effects of policies, practices, and other systemic factors on health outcomes, we can strengthen the case for health leaders and policymakers to take the steps necessary for better community health.”
Addressing the Effects of Racial Discrimination
More than one-third of respondents said racial discrimination influences their health outcomes (34%), those of their friends and family (38%), and those of their communities (47%). As in past years, respondents were more likely to consider racial discrimination a problem in the nation than in their own state or community, and the proportion who consider it a problem is growing. When asked about future public health investments, two in three respondents (67%) said that addressing racial disparities should be a priority for new funding.