The Coronavirus Exponential: A Preliminary Investigation into the Public’s Understanding

The public is being inundated by information (and misinformation) from news sources, social media, and the community about the spread of COVID-19 and disease more generally. Moreover, unlike with most widespread news coverage, data and models are being used to explain the story by news organizations, health organizations, and governments.

The reasons we are presently socially distancing are entrenched in an understanding of exponential growth and flattening the curve. A pair of survey experiments run on Øptimus Analytics’ Daily National Tracking Poll explores public statistical literacy by examining their ability to calculate and understand exponential growth.

Our results present evidence suggesting that although individuals can face difficulty in calculating exponential growth, they do understand the nature of exponential relationships. These findings may be used to help better ground effective communication strategies aimed at the general public. Future research developing out of these initial survey results will continue to explore public understanding of exponential growth both domestically and abroad.

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