Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the coronavirus outbreak has exacted a severe economic toll on their communities, but a majority of a divided country still says controlling the virus’s spread is more important than trying to restart the economy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The nationwide survey finds that despite the shared disruption of their daily lives since stay-at-home orders began, partisans differ sharply on how the country should move forward.
In the starkest split, 57% of Americans overall and 81% of Democrats say trying to control the spread of the coronavirus is most important right now, even if it hurts the economy. A far smaller 27% of Republicans agree, while 66% of them say restarting the economy is more important, even if it hurts efforts to control the virus. Nearly 6 in 10 independents say their priority is trying to control the virus’s spread.
There are sizable gender and racial gaps on this issue, too. Women, by more than 2 to 1, say controlling the spread of the virus should be the higher priority, while men are evenly split. Additionally, black Americans, who have suffered disproportionately from the virus, overwhelmingly favor controlling its spread, with about 3 in 4 citing this as their priority.
Americans are nearly as divided along partisan lines when asked whether they are willing to go to stores, restaurants and other public places “the way you did before the coronavirus outbreak.” Two-thirds of Republicans say they are willing to resume such activities, compared with 4 in 10 independents and fewer than 2 in 10 Democrats. Overall, 58% of Americans say it is “too early” to go to stores, restaurants and other public places the way they did before.
Overall, 42% say they personally know someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, a sharp increase from 11% who said this in late March.
Despite declines in the rate of new infections in some parts of the country, personal fears persist, with 63% of Americans overall continuing to worry that they or a family member will catch the coronavirus. That is not far below the 69% who two months ago said they were worried.
More broadly, nearly 7 in 10 say they are worried about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections in the fall, a specter that Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has warned could coincide with the start of flu season. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say they are worried about a second wave of infections, 88% versus 44%.
Those personal fears – along with stark partisan divides – also shape opinions on reopening and resuming daily routines. Among those who are worried about themselves or a family member catching the coronavirus, 75% say it is “too early” for them to go to stores, restaurants and other public places like they did before the outbreak. Among those who are less worried, 70% are willing to return to their normal routines.
Americans say the outbreak has caused extraordinary upheaval in their own lives and communities, with nearly 8 in 10 saying their lives have been disrupted, including more than 7 in 10 each of Democrats, Republicans and independents. About half of all adults say the outbreak has disrupted their lives “a lot,” peaking at three-quarters among those who have been laid off or furloughed since the coronavirus outbreak started.
Asked about their community’s economy, 59% say the economic impact has been “severe” or “very severe,” while 32% say it has been moderate and 6% report a lesser impact. There is little partisan divide on this question, with 63% of Democrats, 57% of Republicans and 58% of independents saying the outbreak has taken a severe toll in their area.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted after most states had begun to ease stay-at-home orders and partially lift restrictions on public gatherings and businesses, allowing many retail stores and restaurants to reopen, but usually at a limited capacity and with social distancing rules in place. Governors have been the decision-makers on reopening, as states charted their own paths in deciding how and when to ease restrictions that they put in place this spring.
Roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of the way their governors have handled the outbreak, including 69% of those with a Republican governor and 63% in states led by a Democrat. A much smaller 46% approve of President Donald Trump’s handling of the outbreak, as reported Sunday.
But the Trump administration receives positive ratings on two aspects of its response, with 57% saying it has done an excellent or good job providing financial help to people who need it, and 54% saying the same about providing loans to help small businesses weather the effects of the outbreak. In late March, on top of two previous measures, Congress passed and Trump signed a $2.2 trillion aid package that included loans to small businesses, checks of $1,200 to most individual taxpayers and additional assistance to people who had lost their jobs.
The public splits about evenly on how the administration has coordinated federal and state responses to the pandemic, while 51% give the Trump administration negative marks for handling efforts to make a coronavirus test universally available.
Forty million Americans have applied for unemployment since March, but as states reopen, unemployment benefits have become a flash point. Congressional Democrats and Republicans, along with the White House, remain divided as they debate additional stimulus legislation.
The aid package in late March provided an extra $600 per week to people who lost their jobs during the outbreak, a grant that is scheduled to expire at the end of July. House Democrats passed a bill continuing the extra payments through early 2021, but Trump and key Republicans have opposed this, saying the extension could discourage people from returning to work.
The Post-ABC poll finds that 58% of Americans overall support extending the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits beyond July, while 35% say they should end in July as scheduled. But partisans are deeply split, with nearly 6 in 10 Republicans saying extra unemployment benefits should end in July, while nearly 6 in 10 independents and over three-quarters of Democrats say they should be extended.
But Republicans were not immune to fear about the virus. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, more than 4 in 10 are worried about infections in their families. Among this group, 48% are willing to return to stores, restaurants and public places the way they did before the outbreak, while 50% are not. Among Republicans who are less worried about infections, 81% say they are ready to return to normal.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted May 25 to 28 by phone among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, with 75 % of interviews conducted by cellphone and the rest on landline. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
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The Washington Post’s Emily Guskin contributed to this report.