After a number of States individually shutdown through shelter-in-place orders over the past weekend, confining millions of Americans to their homes, President Donald Trump warned, in a tweet, that the ‘cure’ cannot be worse than the problem itself. In other words, he feared, as politicians and leaders across the world have, that the cost of taking drastic measures to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus in its tracks would do more harm to the economy and, indirectly, to people’s long term health than the outbreak itself may have caused.
Indeed, in our recent polls of 1,500 respondents in the United States, respondents were very pessimistic about the future of the economy following this crisis. In particular, we asked respondents for their level of concern, on a scale of 1 to 5, about the effect of the pandemic on the economy, where 4 is “very worried and think there will be a recession” and 5 is “extremely worried and am expecting the worst.”
On a scale of 1 to 5, how concerned are you about the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on the nation’s economy?
Altogether a third of respondents expected a recession, and a quarter expected something even worse than a recession. Only 14% of respondents were optimistic and thought the economy will be “fine” or even “bounce back stronger.”
More specifically, when asked about their personal financial situation, a smaller but perhaps more significant number of respondents indicated that their financial situation will be “quite negatively impacted” or be “dire” and thus “require serious financial assistance.”
On a scale of 1-5 how much of a financial impact do you expect the coronavirus crisis to have on your personal financial position?
Out of the 806 respondents who indicated that they were employed prior to this crisis, a staggering 45% said that they were at risk of losing––or have already lost––their employment status. A few days after our poll was conducted, 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, a whopping, incredible increase in applications.
Are you at risk of losing––or have you already lost––your employment status due to this crisis?}
With this context, it is more than understandable that policymakers and leaders are worried about the effect of the ongoing shutdowns and measures taken to combat the coronavirus. Eager to minimize as much of the damage as possible and to begin the economic recovery, they may aim to reopen economic life quickly.
Yet, even as respondents to our poll expressed strong pessimism about the economic effect of this crisis, they were equally overwhelmingly supportive of shelter-in-place measures imposed by their local governments. Three quarters of respondents altogether supported such a measure whereby they would only be allowed to leave their homes for a limited number of purposes, such as buying groceries.
Would you support a decision by the Government (whether local, state, or federal) to issue a “shelter-in-place” order, whereby residents are asked to stay at home except for limited, essential purposes such as buying food, in your area?
And, of those who supported such a measure, a two-third majority supported such measures being imposed immediately.
When would it be best for such measures to be imposed in your area?
Such urgency for action indicates the strong readiness of the public to respond to this public health crisis, recognizing that the sooner that the pandemic is stopped, the sooner normal economic and social life can resume.
Altogether, a significant majority of all respondents indicated that they would be willing to tolerate such measures for a month or longer.
If a “shelter-in-place” order is issued in your area and residents are asked to stay inside for the safety of the public, how long would you be willing to tolerate such measures?
In fact, a majority of respondents appeared ready for such a scenario by indicating that they had enough food at home to last their households at least two weeks.
Given the amount of food currently at home, about how long would your household be able to go without shopping for more food?
There is somewhat more resistance among the American public to stay at home measures than the European public. When our poll was conducted, however, both Italy and Spain still had more cases than the United States with smaller populations. The degree to which our American respondents may welcome such measures will quickly increase as they see the numbers of confirmed cases continue to rise exponentially.
To already see a majority of the public welcome such measures, then, suggests that policymakers should press ahead with their drastic measures to curb this crisis. As commentators from Billionaire Bill Gates and Pershing Square CEO Bill Ackman to former White House Strategist Steph Bannon have suggested––and as the public appears to broadly agree––the Government, at every level, must now do everything in its power to defeat this pandemic first before moving on to the economic repercussions. Half-measures, undertaken in fear of economic harm, will only prolong this crisis.