Current Attitudes: Account for ‘COVID Clusters’

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We are, of course, still in the midst of the pandemic, and if the question is, “How are people feeling about that?” there is not just one answer. There isn’t even a good answer that can be accurately expressed as an average. Instead, there are different constellations of opinion relating to the medical and economic situation, with people grouping themselves into “clusters.” Now, “COVID clusters” might sound like 2020’s worst candy, but understanding these groupings is key to analyzing the revised landscape of this year’s jury pool, assessing who is likely to show up for jury duty, and appreciating the attitudes they are likely to bring.

The principle behind cluster analysis is that sometimes even attitudes on very different topics will hang together. Because they do, knowing some attitudes will allow you to reasonably infer other attitudes. As part of a continuing Persuasion Strategies research project, our quantitative researcher, Katerina Oberdieck, closely analyzed the results of a longitudinal study we are conducting to assess the attitudes of the jury-eligible population before, during, and (hopefully soon) after the coronavirus pandemic. She found that attitudes toward the medical and economic conditions, as well as associated attitudes toward jury service and lawsuits, tended to aggregate into three discernible clusters. In this post, I will share what we know about each of the three clusters:

Cluster One: Optimists

The first set of differentiating attitudes are the optimists. They are largely trusting of the federal government, the Trump administration, federal health officials, as well as large corporations. They have fewer negative emotions surrounding the coronavirus, and are more hopeful that things are either fine or will work out for the best relatively soon.

Taking a closer look at the Optimists, we find that they are:

    • Wealthier
    • Trump voters (more than two-thirds)
    • Pro-corporate, having the lowest measurements on our Anti-Corporate Bias Scale
      • Less likely to say the government should do more to police corporations
      • Less likely to say the government favors corporations over ordinary Americans
      • Less likely to believe that suits against corporations probably have merit
    • Anti-plaintiff, anti-lawsuit
      • More likely to believe that there are too many lawsuits against the medical profession
      • More likely to say jury awards are too high
      • More likely to believe that most claims of disability, as well as pain and suffering, are exaggerated
      • More likely to be pro-defense in several lawsuit scenarios with an individual including: wrongful death, medical malpractice, and breach of contract
      • More likely to believe that most lawsuits are an attempt to blame others for misfortune beyond anyone’s control
    • Individualists: More likely to say people need to take more responsibility for their own well-being
    • More likely to believe that scientific research is frequently biased
    • More likely to place law over ethics
    • Most likely to show for jury duty (and less likely to say it would be a financial hardship)

Cluster Two: Concerned

The second cluster has greater concern about the pandemic and its economic effects, seeing the situation as a true crisis. They are more likely to report high concern, anxiety, sadness, and anger. They are less hopeful that things will get better soon. This group has lower trust in the federal government, much less trust in the Trump administration, and a lower opinion of corporations.

Taking a closer look at the Concerned, we find they are:

    • More likely to be suffering financially as a result of the pandemic

    • Much less likely to be Trump voters (just four percent are)

    • Anti-Corporate (having the highest level on our Anti-Corporate Bias Scale)

      • More likely to say the government should do more to police corporations

      • More likely to say the government favors corporations over ordinary Americans

      • More likely to believe that suits against corporations probably have merit

    • Communitarian: More likely to say society needs to do more to ensure people’s well-being

    • Pro-Science: Likely to believe that scientific research is rarely biased

    • Pro-Plaintiff, pro-lawsuit

      • More likely to believe jury awards are just right or too low

      • More likely to favor the plaintiff in wrongful death medical malpractice scenarios

      • Less likely to believe that most claims of disability, as well as pain and suffering, are exaggerated

      • Less likely to believe that most lawsuits are an attempt to blame others for misfortune beyond anyone’s control

      • Less likely to believe that there are too many lawsuits against the medical profession

Cluster Three: Disengaged

This group is less engaged regarding the pandemic. They tend to have a low trust in everyone (including the government and corporations), but also have little emotional reaction to the pandemic and the economy. Members of the Disengaged cluster typically fall squarely between the Optimistic and Concerned groups on most of the measures identified above. One notable differentiator, however, is education: The disengaged group is the least educated.

Anyone who is selecting a jury, or assessing a case for a future jury, should consider these three clusters. Knowing which potential jurors are grouped with which clusters will provide a good amount of insight on the kinds of relevant attitudes they will bring to your case. These clusters also remind us that judicial procedures in bringing back in-person trials are not likely to be neutral. When it is easy for the Concerned to be excused or to self-select out of the process, that will have a predictable effect on the rest of the pool.

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Statistical analysis by Katerina Oberdieck. Image from 123rf.com, used under license

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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