US Public Sharply Divided Over Current State of the Coronavirus Crisis

June 16, 2020
Coronavirus

With the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the protests that have followed across the United States, media coverage has shifted its attention away from the coronavirus pandemic and towards the protests. Nonetheless, the pandemic continues, and a significant proportion of Americans remain very concerned about it. Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest national poll last week found that Americans are deeply divided over the current state of the coronavirus crisis: 34% of respondents agreed and 34% disagreed that the coronavirus situation in the US is coming under control.  

In the past few weeks, most states in the US have begun the gradual process of reducing social distancing measures and re-opening the economy. As has been the case throughout the coronavirus crisis, public opinion is divided over the level of social distancing that is currently necessary. Our poll finds that the plurality of Americans thinks social distancing measures have been eased too fast (44%), compared to 27% who think they have been eased at the right pace, and 18% who thinks they have been eased too slow.

Although the plurality of likely Trump voters consider that social distancing measures have been eased too fast (36%), likely Biden voters (53%) were more inclined to think restrictions have been eased too fast than likely Trump voters. Likewise, there were regional differences among respondents, which are like the result of the different speeds at which state governors have lifted lockdown measures in their states. For example, our polling finds that 48% of those in the South think lockdown has been eased too fast, compared to only 37% in the Northeast.

These results reflect locational differences between respondents. Southern states have indeed lifted their lockdowns at a faster pace than Northeastern states, for instance. Likely Biden voters are more likely to live in urban areas where there have been higher number of cases of coronavirus.  

Potentially as a result of the rapid pace of reopening, the majority of respondents think another round of lockdowns in the US is likely (55%). This includes the majority of likely Biden voters (64%) and the plurality of likely Trump voters (43%). Overall, only 22% of respondents said they do not think another round of lockdowns in the US is likely.

Despite the majority thinking a second round of lockdowns is likely to happen, the public is divided down the middle over whether the US is prepared to stave off a second wave of coronavirus, with 40% of respondents saying it is prepared and 43% saying it is not prepared. Perhaps predictably, the majority of likely Trump voters think the US is prepared (58%), whereas the majority of Biden voters think the US is not prepared (59%).

However, regardless of the overall preparedness of the US, one thing that has radically changed in the behavior of Americans is their use of face masks: our poll found that 60% of Americans now wear a mask when they leave their home, and an additional 30% wear one sometimes. These are very high figures, roughly approaching the proportion seen in East Asia. Although the caveat is that these are self-reported numbers and therefore one might see differences in actual mask usage rates, it is nevertheless surprising to see such high proportions of even self-reported face mask age usage in the United States given that few respondents would have been wearing a mask only a few months ago.

However, despite the high rates of face mask usage in the US, the majority of respondents remains divided over the types of public places that they feel safe visiting. Our poll found that the majority of Americans currently feel safe visiting a friend’s house (60%) and going shopping (57%), but less than a third would feel safe going to the gym (29%) or watching a movie at a movie theatre (28%). Going to a restaurant or bar remains a contentious subject, with 38% of respondents saying they would feel safe doing so, compared to how 62% of respondents do not feel safe going to a restaurant or bar. Interestingly, a higher proportion would feel safe going to a barber or hair salon (46%) than to a restaurant or bar (38%).

Likewise, the public is divided down the middle when it comes to feeling safe going to the hospital for something unrelated to coronavirus, with 50% of respondents saying they would feel safe doing so, and 50% saying they would feel unsafe. Interestingly, older respondents were more likely to feel safe going to a hospital for something unrelated to coronavirus than younger respondents (57% of those aged 65 and above said they would feel safe, compared to 43% of those aged 18-24). This difference may be hard to understand, given that older individuals are at a far greater risk of complications if they were to acquire coronavirus.

Despite the clear divisions within the US public over the current state of the coronavirus crisis, there is one measure which shows overall pessimism going forward: a plurality of Americans thinks the worst of the coronavirus crisis is yet to come (43%), compared to the 34% who think the worst is behind us. This outlook is in sharp contrast with perceptions in the UK, where the plurality thinks the worst of coronavirus is behind them (47%) and only 30% think it is yet to come. This view comes, perhaps contradictorily, despite UK respondents feeling more pessimistic about their Government’s ability to stave off a second wave of coronavirus than US respondents.

As such, a certain nervousness among the American public concerning the coronavirus pandemic remains apparent. Even as the headlines move away from the pandemic towards other issues, the question as to whether the crisis is truly over still lingers in the air.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.