Watching the coronavirus political fight play out might leave you with the belief that there are essentially two camps: the first that wants the economy to open up at almost any cost, and the second that wants nonessential businesses to stay shut down.
Those who are who are pouring into state capitols, demanding reopenings, are not speaking for anything close to a majority. However, a closer look at the data reveals, however, that there’s a large middle ground consisting of Americans willing to open up some businesses.
Take a look at the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, for example. At first glance, the data seems a lot like most of what we’re accustomed to. The vast majority (75%) of voters are for a slower reopening of the economy, if reopening quickly means making the spread of coronavirus worse. This echoes other polling that generally finds that shutdowns are pretty popular and that more folks are worried about reopening too quickly than they are about reopening slowly.
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And indeed, there are a number of activities that a clear majority of voters don’t think are safe or that they simply will not do. A large 74% think it’s unsafe to get on an airplane in the Quinnipiac poll. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 81% of Americans say it’s unlikely they’d attend a sports event in the next three months. A sizable 68% think it’s unlikely they’ll stay at a hotel or vacation rental.
Yet a number of these same people aren’t as opposed to other nonessential activities. Voters in the Quinnipiac poll are basically split down the middle as to whether it’s unsafe to go to a barbershop or hair salon (50%), go to a clothing shop (49%) or send students to college in the fall (50%).
And while many folks are forced to work from home, Quinnipiac found that only 39% felt it would be unsafe to go to a workplace outside their house right now. The majority (55%) believe it would be safe.
The Kaiser poll indicates a populous even more willing to try activities over the next three months. A majority of 58% said they were already or would likely in the next few months gather with 10 friends or family or more at the same time. A similar 56% said they’d go to a barbershop, hair salon or nail salon.
The verdict seems to differ between the Kaiser and Quinnipiac polls on eating in-person at a restaurant. In the Quinnipiac survey, 62% say it’s unsafe, Compare that to the 53% who told Kaiser that they’re likely to do it in the next three months.
I also looked across different polls that asked specifically about whether at least some (not all) non-essential businesses as a broad category should be allowed to re-open. What I found was that on average, a slight majority (around 55%) were in favor of at least some non-essential businesses being allowed to reopen.
This echoes what polls show about how Americans feel about their states handling of the coronavirus pandemic more generally. As many states were reopening some non-essential businesses or at least stating their plans to, 56% thought their state government was handling reopenings about right in an Ipsos/Washington Post poll from earlier this month. Only 28% think their state government was reopening things too quickly, while an even smaller portion (16%) think they’re acting too slowly. The more recent AP-NORC and Kaiser polls had similar results.
Perhaps more amazingly, a plurality of Democrats, Republicans and independents agreed in the Ipsos poll that their state government was doing the right thing.
This matches the sky-high approval ratings that most governors on both sides of the aisle are getting for their handling of the crisis.
The bottom line is that folks don’t want to go back to normal yet. Nor do the majority want people to bunker down. They seem ready to allow people, including themselves, to go outside their homes and allow them to enjoy some non-essential activities, although they are certainly cautious in that belief.