COVID-19: How Has It Changed Americans’ Attitudes and Behaviors?

April 27, 2020

Westat is collaborating with the Stanford University School of Medicine on a fast-turnaround, comprehensive, national survey of Americans attitudes and behaviors regarding COVID-19. The Coronavirus Attitudes and Behaviors Survey will be fielded in late April, with analysis forthcoming.

The survey asks about perceptions individuals have about the risks of contracting COVID-19, as well as its probable impact on their health. It also asks how people’s behaviors have changed since the pandemic began, the influence of stay-at-home orders on those behaviors, and the economic impact of the pandemic.

Timothy Mulcahy, a Westat Vice President and Practice Director for Social Policy and Economics Research, is the Principal Investigator for Westat.

Survey Design

Kerry Levin, Ph.D., and Jocelyn Newsome, Ph.D., members of Westat’s Instrument Design, Evaluation, and Analysis (IDEA) Services team, worked with Stanford to design the instrument. “It has been a quick, collaborative effort with Stanford leading the way with the research questions,” notes Dr. Levin. “It was particularly challenging to balance researchers’ needs for precision with respondents’ ability to report how much a behavior has changed as a result of the pandemic.” The team drew from its methodological expertise on questionnaire design, producing a questionnaire within a few days. “Our goal is to construct questions that we hope are easy for respondents to understand and answer as accurately as possible,” explains Dr. Newsome.

The survey has been designed to measure attitudes and behavior at multiple points in time enabling researchers to understand and report on changes over time.

Survey Sampling

Jill DeMatteis, Ph.D., a Vice President in Westat’s Statistics and Evaluation Sciences Group, worked closely with Jonathan Wivagg, Ph.D., a Senior Study Director and the project director for the survey. Dr. DeMatteis developed the overall plan for an address-based sample (ABS) using a mail push-to-web methodology.  She also designed and selected the national sample based on this survey methodology, and will oversee the weighting.

Survey Management

At the beginning of the field period, an introductory letter was sent out with a small financial incentive, and Westat will follow up with a reminder postcard. Respondents are asked to go online to complete the survey.

The fielding of the survey is fairly standard. “It’s the tight turnaround and topicality of the survey questions that are unique,” notes Dr. Wivagg. He continues that while this is not the first survey being pushed out to gather feedback during and about the pandemic, many that have been done are based on responses from convenience-style panel surveys. The survey developed by Westat and Stanford is a more careful, scientific approach. “We’re taking pains to make a scientific inquiry, creating reliable population estimates with a representative probability sample,” adds Dr. Wivagg. “Subsequent waves of research can be done to continue to track policy impacts.”

Once the data are in, Stanford and Westat will be publishing a series of briefs about the study and its results. Check back in the upcoming weeks as Westat and Stanford post on the findings.


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