People wear masks at an indoor mall in lower Manhattan on December 13, 2021, the day that a mask mandate went into effect in New York.
CNN  — 

Most Americans are weary of Covid-19, recent polling shows, but there’s less consensus over how that exhaustion should translate into policy. Public opinion, these surveys suggest, isn’t a struggle between two clearly defined opposing camps – one favoring an immediate and total lifting of Covid precautions and the other a state of lockdown. Rather, Americans hold a broad spectrum of complex, conflicted and changeable views on managing the pandemic.

Support for a return to normal can vary depending on what is being posited as the alternative option. In a CNN poll conducted in January and February, 75% of Americans described themselves as feeling burned out by the pandemic, with a majority also saying they were angry (60%) and worried (58%). The survey found the country split on the best philosophy to take during the pandemic: 51% said the US should take the approach that “it’s time to learn to live with the virus,” while another 48% said the country should continue to make stopping the spread of the virus its highest priority.

By contrast, in a Monmouth University poll published at the end of January, an overwhelming 70% of American adults agreed that “it’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.” At the same time, however, roughly half said they supported instituting or reinstituting mask and social distancing guidelines in their states.

Examined together, those questions imply that the broad coalition of Americans ready to move on aren’t in wholehearted agreement about what that means. According to the Monmouth poll, a plurality of 40% were both ready to get on with their lives and opposed to continued Covid restrictions. A smaller 29% were ready to get on with their lives but also in favor of such restrictions, while another 28% disagreed with the premise of getting on with life amid Covid-19.

The CNN and Monmouth polls both include interviews conducted in January, when Covid case counts were far higher than they stand today. But that complexity is echoed by newer polling. An Axios/Ipsos poll released last week found Americans divided about the proper next steps for the country, with most favoring a middle ground. About one-fifth, or 21%, said the US should “open up and get back to life as usual” without Covid mandates or requirements, 29% wanted to “move towards opening up, but still take some precautions,” 23% wanted to keep Covid precautions mostly in place and 21% wanted an increase in mask mandates and vaccine requirements.

Views were polarized, according to the Axios/Ipsos survey: 43% of Republicans favored dropping all coronavirus mandates and requirements, while just 3% of Democrats felt that way. A majority of Democrats picked one of the two more restrictive options.

“There’s nothing approaching a consensus on what we should be doing to move forward, which underlines the difficulty for policymakers,” Ipsos pollster and Senior Vice President Chris Jackson told Axios.

In a CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday, roughly half of Americans, or 53%, described themselves as feeling “patient” about maintaining restrictions such as social distancing, limits on public events and mask mandates through the end of the outbreak. Thirty-seven percent described themselves as frustrated about the restrictions, 27% as exhausted by the extra effort and just 21% as encouraged by the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Most, 56%, said they wanted their states to have mask mandates in place, although opinions were again sharply divided along partisan lines.

“Overall, there’s still more patience than frustration about preventative measures like masks and restrictions – but there’s plenty of both, neither fully dominates the public mind,” the CBS News polling team wrote.

Crucially, the public’s views of the pandemic are also liable to change. Opinions often map along well-established political dividing lines. But, compared with issues on which views have ossified, the polling suggests that opinions on Covid-19 remain relatively reactive to the reality of the pandemic. When coronavirus cases have risen – like during last summer’s surge of the Delta variant or this winter’s Omicron wave – Americans’ concern about the disease also has increased, as has their support for stricter regulations and the amount of caution they are willing to take. With cases currently falling and many states shedding restrictions, public opinion could soon be entering a new phase.