State Watch

Trump hits serious headwinds in polls on COVID-19 reopening

President Trump is running against the polls with his calls for state and local governments to reopen their economies in an effort to stem the damage from what is likely to be the worst economic contraction in 90 years.

Despite the protests that have garnered attention in Michigan and other states, voters in a series of polls have said they are not yet ready to resume anything approaching daily life as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

This raises some political risk for Trump, who fears a bad economy could swamp him in November, but who could face blame if states reopen too quickly and a new wave of COVID-19 infections hits the country.

Pollsters have repeatedly found that Americans worry states are moving too quickly to lift restrictions meant to stem the spread of the virus, that the government is not doing enough to halt the spread of the virus, and that even if the country were to reopen, a huge majority would continue to limit their own exposure to the rest of society.

A survey from Monmouth University Poll released Wednesday showed 63 percent of Americans worried that states would lift restrictions on some activities too quickly, while just 29 percent said they worried states were not moving fast enough to lift those restrictions. 

An Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters last week found 70 percent of adults saying they are avoiding large gatherings of people wherever possible. Fifty-five percent said they now regularly wear masks in public, by personal choice, including almost half of registered Republican voters and two-thirds of Democrats.

A Navigator Research poll, conducted in late April by the Democratic firms Global Strategy Group and GBAO, found just 16 percent of respondents would be comfortable going out to a restaurant or a bar, and only 10 percent would be comfortable attending public events or large gatherings. 

In that survey, more than three-quarters of voters — including two-thirds of Republicans — said that if the country were to reopen in the next few weeks, they would still spend almost all of their time at home, emerging in public exclusively for essential activities. Sixty-three percent said they were concerned that social distancing measures would end too soon, prolonging the pandemic and risking American lives and the economy.

All of this suggests any economic gains from the reopenings could be limited, though if people continue to stay home despite states and cities lifting restrictions, their behavior could also limit COVID-19’s spread.

“A reopening without regard to public health and safety doesn’t work. Americans won’t be ready to resume their lives, and the economic activity that goes with it, until they feel it is safe to do so,” said Nick Gourevitch, who conducted the Navigator poll.

Just 32 percent of Americans polled said they would definitely or probably go to church services even if restrictions were lifted on the advice of public health officials, a Voter Study Group tracking poll from late April found. More than half, 57 percent, would go to dinner at a friend’s house, but only 26 percent would go to the movies, 22 percent would ride on public transportation and 43 percent would eat at a restaurant. Only 19 percent said they would definitely or probably attend a sporting event.

“Societies are complex systems that relying on many interlocking pieces, among them confidence. At present, it does not appear to be the case that the majority of Americans feel confident doing many of the things that defined pre-COVID[-19] life in America,” said Robert Griffin, the Voter Study Group’s research director.

Pollsters are also finding that few Americans think the government’s actions to combat the coronavirus outbreak are too aggressive. Just 11 percent of respondents told Suffolk University pollsters that the government was doing too much to stop the virus, while 50 percent said the federal government wasn’t doing enough. Another third believed the government’s actions were about the right level of involvement.

Polls show state and local government decisions to close businesses or suspend gatherings are wildly popular. Eight in ten voters say they support closing theaters, bars and restaurants, according to the Voter Study Group tracking poll. The same survey found 72 percent backing restrictions on nonessential travel outside the home, and 79 percent supported testing people for fevers before they enter public buildings.

Americans’ skepticism over whether to venture out in public even as some states begin to reopen their economies is evident at the state level, too.

A Meredith College poll conducted last month found that, if North Carolina were to open for business tomorrow, only 29 percent would eat at a dine-in restaurant, and only 9 percent would go to a bar. Only 14 percent would hit the gym, while 17 percent would go to a movie theater. If schools were to reopen in the middle of May, about twice as many parents would keep their school-aged children home as the number who would send their kids back to the classroom.

In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has allowed some businesses to reopen at dramatically scaled back capacities, only 1 in 5 voters said they would be comfortable attending a football game, and fewer said they would consider attending baseball, basketball or soccer games.

Trump is also seeing a general decline in the number of Americans who approve of his response to the coronavirus crisis. 

In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Trump is now underwater on his handling of the coronavirus, with an average of 43.9 percent approving of his handling of the crisis and 52.3 percent disapproving.

The Reuters-Ipsos poll showed just 42 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing, down 6 points from the middle of April. The Monmouth University Poll survey also found 42 percent saying Trump was going a good job, down from 50 percent in March; 51 percent now say he is doing a bad job handling the crisis. Only a third told Monmouth’s pollsters that the advice Trump has given about how to prevent and treat the coronavirus has been helpful, while 42 percent said his advice was harmful.

The latest Navigator poll, conducted April 30-May 5, shows Trump’s ratings on the coronavirus down to 44 percent, near the lowest rating that survey has recorded toward the end of last month.

Americans are still broadly supportive of the way both state governments and other federal agencies outside the White House are handling the crisis. Sixty-three percent of Americans said federal health agencies are doing a good job combatting the crisis, and a whopping 73 percent of voters said their governors were doing a good job.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump economy reopening

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