This week, the United States reported its highest ever daily number of new Covid-19 cases. Hospitalizations are also rising, and the number of deaths stands at over 225,000. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Redfield & Wilton Strategies have monitored public attitudes and personal behaviours. Our latest research provides evidence that public opinion in regard to coronavirus has remained remarkably stable over time.
Currently, 53% of Americans consider that the worst is yet to come with respects to the timeline of the pandemic, which represents virtually no change since 9 July, when 54% held this view. However, opinion fluctuated somewhat in the interim period: In late September, only 43% said the worst was yet to come, while 49% thought this was the case in August. Thus, after a period of improving outlook in August and September, pessimism over the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic has now rebounded to its July levels.
Moreover, across our polling, a clear plurality or outright majority of the US public has disagreed that the coronavirus situation in the United States is coming under control. At this stage, almost half (48%) do not think the pandemic is coming under control, compared to 43% in late September, 42% in August and 51% in July. Indeed, across the four polls, only between 28-33% agreed that the pandemic was in the process of being successfully contained.
While respondents were evenly split in July over which presidential candidate would be more likely to lead a strong economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, Joe Biden has been ahead of Donald Trump since August: across our polls conducted in August, September and October, between 42-45% of Americans think Joe Biden would be more likely to lead a strong economic recovery, compared to 36-38% who think it would be Donald Trump.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have tracked how safe or unsafe Americans feel engaging in a wide range of everyday activities. In parallel with our other findings related to coronavirus, opinion remains strikingly stable in some instances. For example, between 69-71% of the US public felt safe going outside their home in our polling across August, September, and October, while 21-23% felt unsafe. Furthermore, a strong majority of Americans have consistently said they would feel unsafe taking public transportation (64-71%), going to the gym (61-72%), attending a sporting event (64-75%), watching a movie at a movie theater (62-73%), and taking a flight (64-72%).
Nevertheless, despite a greater number of daily coronavirus cases being recorded in late October compared to August, Americans feel increasingly safe in certain scenarios: 65% felt unsafe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar inside in August, whereas between 53-55% held this view in September and October. Moreover, while almost half (49%) felt unsafe eating or drinking outside in August, a majority (52%) felt safe in September and October. In addition, most Americans now feel safe visiting a friend’s house (52%), which was not the case in August (47%). Encouragingly, Americans are gradually feeling safer going to the hospital for something unrelated to coronavirus: 47% now feel safe, compared to 42% in August and 46% in September.
Greater feelings of safety in certain settings may be due to increased mask usage in American society. Currently, 62% of the US public always wear a mask to cover their mouth and nose when they leave their home, compared to 52% in July. Mask usage has also increased significantly in supermarkets: in October, around three quarters (74%) said they always wore a mask when shopping at a supermarket, compared to 57% in July.
The US public is progressively more likely to always wear a mask when meeting with a friend outside (38% in October compared to 33% in September, 34% in August, and 29% in July), or enter any home other than the one they live in (36% in October compared to 34% in September, 31% in August, and 30% in July).
Ultimately, American levels of pessimism about the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic are now back to where they were three months ago, after a brief period of rising optimism. Nonetheless, while there are some activities that a clear majority of Americans still feel are unsafe given the pandemic, an increasing proportion of the public feels safe engaging in certain pastimes, including visiting hospitality venues and visiting friends in their homes. Finally, policy-makers and public health professionals will be enthused that mask wearing continues to increase in various social situations, a shift in personal behavior that highlights Americans are increasingly adapting to the “new normal” of life during coronavirus.