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Most Americans Think It’s Too Soon To Return To What Life Was Like Pre-Pandemic

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

In the past couple weeks, many states have announced plans to gradually lift the stay-at-home orders put in place to stem the tide of the coronavirus. However, polls show that most Americans believe it is too soon to reopen.

In their latest poll (conducted May 3-5), The Economist/YouGov found that only 11 percent of adults believed it was safe to end social distancing and reopen businesses right now. Six percent said it would be safe in about two weeks, and another 19 percent said it would be in a month or so. A plurality (29 percent) thought it would take several months, and 15 percent even said a year or longer. A Morning Consult survey taken April 29-30 found that just 20 percent of registered voters thought the economy should reopen in April (i.e., immediately) or May, 37 percent said June or July, 16 percent said August or September, and 12 percent said October or later. And a May 5 poll from Global Strategy Group and GBAO for left-leaning firm Navigator Research found that 60 percent of Americans opposed reopening the country in the next few weeks, versus 36 percent who supported it. Finally, a May 2-5 poll by Civiqs for Daily Kos asked respondents flat out whether they supported having a stay-at-home order in place in their state: Sixty-five percent said yes, and 29 percent said no.

Simply put, Americans think the stay-at-home orders are doing a lot more good than bad. That same Economist/YouGov survey found that 59 percent of adults believed the orders were extremely or very effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19; an additional 31 percent said they were somewhat effective, while only 10 percent doubted their effectiveness. In addition, a whopping 75 percent thought it was either very or somewhat likely that states reopening would result in an increase in COVID-19 cases. And in an Axios/Ipsos poll conducted May 1-4, 67 percent of Americans said that they thought returning to their pre-coronavirus life right now would be a large or moderate risk to their health and well-being; only 30 percent of Americans said they were willing to accept such a risk to return to their normal lives.

In general, Americans are taking a cautious attitude toward reopening. According to a Monmouth University poll conducted April 30-May 4, 63 percent of adults were more concerned about lifting restrictions too quickly than not lifting them quickly enough; 29 percent said the opposite. And the Navigator Research poll reported that 59 percent of Americans were more concerned about social distancing ending too soon, while 32 percent were more concerned that it would go on too long.

Even if businesses reopen, polls suggest many Americans would still choose not to patronize them. A Washington Post/University of Maryland poll conducted April 28-May 3 found that 78 percent of adults would be uncomfortable eating out in a restaurant right now, while just 22 percent would be comfortable. Respondents also said 67 percent to 33 percent that they would be uncomfortable going to a retail clothing store. However, some people might feel differently if states give the all-clear. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to an Edison Research poll for Marketplace (conducted April 23-28) said they would be comfortable returning to their normal routine when their state relaxes its stay-at-home order.

There are some signs, though, that people are itching to emerge from quarantine, although most are still following social-distancing guidelines. Per Navigator Research, the share of Americans who said they are spending almost all their time at home ticked down from 84 percent on April 24 to 78 percent on May 5. The percentage who were avoiding in-person interactions with family and friends went from 71 percent to 66 percent. And the latest poll from Axios/Ipsos reported that 26 percent of Americans had recently visited friends or relatives, up from 19 percent in their April 17-20 poll.

The slip in Americans’ social-distancing habits could have to do with the warming weather around the country. It could also be that, as some public-health officials feared would happen, more people feel safer going outside now that many states are mandating face masks. Indeed, the share of Americans who say they are wearing face masks in public is on the rise. According to The Economist/YouGov, 75 percent of adults said they have worn a mask in public, up from 53 percent in mid-April. And 73 percent of Axios/Ipsos respondents said they always or sometimes wore a mask when leaving the home; that number was 56 percent in their April 10-13 survey.

Overall, though, Americans remain as worried about COVID-19 as ever. According to our coronavirus polling tracker, 68.2 percent of Americans are either very or somewhat concerned that they or someone they know will become infected with the coronavirus; only 31.3 percent are not very or not at all concerned.

Worries about the economy are stable too, with 55.2 percent being very concerned, 31.4 percent being somewhat concerned and just 11.9 percent being not very or not at all concerned.

But polls consistently show that, to the extent medical and economic concerns come into conflict, Americans are prioritizing their health. According to Monmouth, 56 percent thought that minimizing the number of people who get sick is a more important consideration in lifting restrictions than avoiding a sustained economic downturn; only 33 percent thought the economy should be the priority. In the Edison Research/Marketplace survey, 65 percent said maintaining stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19 was more important to them than relaxing those orders to help the economy, versus 33 percent who said the opposite. The gap was widest in Morning Consult’s data: Eighty percent of voters said Americans should continue to socially distance even if it means damaging the economy, and just 20 percent said the country should stop social distancing to stimulate the economy, even if it means spreading the coronavirus.

Finally, the percentage who approve of President Trump’s handling of the pandemic continues to decline. As of Thursday evening, 43.5 percent approved and 51.1 percent disapproved, bringing Trump’s coronavirus approval numbers almost perfectly in line with his overall job approval numbers.

Specific polls homed in on Trump’s daily coronavirus briefings as something that is hurting his image. In an April 22-24 Morning Consult poll, 53 percent of adults said the word “frustrating” described Trump’s conferences either very or somewhat well, versus 30 percent who thought the word did not fit. Respondents also said 46 percent to 36 percent that they were misleading and 46 percent to 34 percent that they were counterproductive. And according to Monmouth, only 33 percent of adults found Trump’s advice on the coronavirus helpful; 23 percent found it neither particularly helpful nor harmful, while 42 percent found it actively harmful.

Other polling bites

  • Monmouth also asked about former Senate staffer Tara Reade’s allegation of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe Biden. The overwhelming majority (86 percent) of registered voters said they had heard about the allegation, but many weren’t sure what to make of it: 37 percent said it was probably true, 32 percent said it was probably not true and 31 percent said that they didn’t know. Other polls by HuffPost/YouGov and Morning Consult found Americans similarly split on the allegation’s credibility, with large proportions saying they didn’t know enough to say.
  • In a CBS News/YouGov poll conducted last week, 36 percent of Democratic registered voters said that Sen. Elizabeth Warren was their first choice for Biden’s running mate. Another 19 percent preferred Sen. Kamala Harris, 14 percent preferred former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and 13 percent preferred Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
  • An April 30-May 1 poll from Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling showed a tight U.S. Senate race in Iowa: Republican incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst received 43 percent support, while Democrat Theresa Greenfield got 42 percent. It was the first Senate poll of Iowa since late last year, when polls were giving Ernst a 6- or 7-point lead.
  • These are aren’t the poll numbers you’re looking for: SSRS has released a survey of all things Star Wars.1 Sixty-eight percent of Americans have seen at least one Star Wars film; the Force is especially strong with the 16 percent who have seen all of them. Among those who have seen at least one, 64 percent preferred the original trilogy, while 13 percent have turned to the Dark Side (i.e., they like the prequel trilogy best). Never tell Han Solo the odds, but maybe he’ll like this poll: A plurality (16 percent) of Star Wars viewers say he’s their favorite character. Fifteen percent like Luke Skywalker the most, followed by Chewbacca with 11 percent. Didn’t anyone tell them to let the Wookiee win?
  • Already struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is facing a political crisis after a popular, anti-corruption cabinet minister resigned to protest Bolsonaro’s firing of Brazil’s federal police chief. In the wake of the scandal, pollster Datafolha finds that 45 percent of Brazilians support impeaching Bolsonaro, while 48 percent oppose it.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 43.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 51.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -8.1 points). At this time last week, 42.9 percent approved and 52.4 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -9.5 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 45.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 49.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -4.3 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 7.9 percentage points (48.5 percent to 40.6 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 7.7 points (48.0 percent to 40.3 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.7 points (48.9 percent to 41.2 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.


  1. The Star Wars franchise, like FiveThirtyEight, is owned by the Walt Disney Company.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.