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States Are Reopening, But Many Americans Say They Aren’t Rushing Back To Normal Life

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

Almost all states have now begun phased reopenings after shutting down nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus. However, any dreams that life would return to its pre-pandemic normal do not appear to be coming true. Recent polling indicates that Americans are still spooked by the threat of COVID-19 and many won’t be resuming their old behaviors any time soon.

In a Morning Consult poll conducted May 12-15, only 23 percent of Americans said they were comfortable going out to eat, going on vacation or going to a shopping mall — and those were the activities that respondents were most likely to be comfortable with. Only 16 percent said they were comfortable going to the movies, 14 percent going to an amusement park and 13 percent going to the gym. And another Morning Consult poll, from May 19-21, found that sports fans have come around to holding games in empty stadiums if necessary, with 41 percent supporting a crowdless return as soon as possible and 38 percent saying leagues should wait until it’s safe for fans to attend before restarting. That’s a stark change from April 3-5, when 70 percent of fans said sports leagues should wait until it’s safe for spectators and only 16 percent favored a quicker return.

Similarly, a May 17-21 poll of New York state by The New York Times/Siena College suggested that, even if all legal restrictions were lifted, the theater industry would take months to recover. Only 39 percent of Broadway regulars said they would be very or somewhat likely to see a show if theaters reopened around Sept. 1. Among playgoers who said they were not very likely to attend a show for the rest of this year, 58 percent said it was because they didn’t trust other audience members to maintain social-distancing measures, and 55 percent also said they did not trust others to wear masks.

Speaking of Sept. 1, one of the biggest unknowns is whether schools will reopen in the fall — but even if they do, many students and teachers may not attend. USA Today/Ipsos polled both parents and teachers May 18-21 and found that 59 percent of parents were likely to pursue at-home learning options, like online classes or home schooling. And nearly one-fifth of teachers said they likely would not go back to work in the fall if schools reopen.

Additionally, in at least one state, the pandemic may have a long-term impact on how people get around. According to a MassINC poll from May 5-13, about one-third of Massachusetts residents said they expect to take the train, ride the subway, take the bus, carpool, take a taxi and use ride-share apps less often, even after the worst of the pandemic has passed. On the other hand, 38 percent said they will walk more, and 28 percent said they will drive alone in their own car more.

Instead of looking to get life back to normal, Americans seem to be taking to the new, low-contact ways of life foisted upon us by the pandemic. According to a May 11-17 Gallup poll, 44 percent of adults said they were picking up takeout food more often than they did a month ago. In late March and early April, only 26 percent said they were upping their takeout orders. Likewise, 36 percent of adults were taking more advantage of curbside pickup at stores (up from 19 percent in late March and early April), and 27 percent were having more virtual doctor’s appointments (up from 12 percent). And although it’s just one state, the MassINC poll also found that 41 percent of workers said they would prefer to work from home even after Massachusetts reopens.

Some people have changed their behavior as states have reopened, but the majority are still taking social-distancing measures. According to the latest Navigator Research poll from Global Strategy Group and GBAO (from May 21-25), 74 percent of registered voters are spending almost all their time at home, down from a high of 87 percent in early April. And 56 percent are still avoiding in-person interactions with family and friends, down from 73 percent. However, the share who are avoiding public gatherings or going out to eat or drink has remained pretty steady over time (each currently at 81 percent). Similarly, over the last few weeks, Elucd’s tracker has found a gradual erosion in the number of people who say they are isolating themselves from other people, although nearly 70 percent say they are still doing so all or most of the time.

The reason Americans aren’t yet picking up where they left off appears to be simple: People tell pollsters that they need the number of new COVID-19 cases to drop in order to feel safe again. Per Elucd, only 7 percent of respondents said schools and businesses reopening would make them stop practicing social distancing; the same percentage said guidance from elected officials would. For most people, it would take a significant drop in COVID-19 cases (32 percent said this) or widespread antibody testing (26 percent). According to yet another Morning Consult poll (this one fielded May 19-21), 73 percent of registered voters thought coronavirus testing should be required for employees to return to work, and 74 percent thought it should be required for students to go back to school. Finally, the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found in a May 14-18 poll that 79 percent of Americans thought it was important that a coronavirus vaccine be available before reopening businesses and resuming activities in their area, including 46 percent who said a vaccine was essential.

Other polling bites

  • One of the many second-order effects of the pandemic is that state governments are facing massive budget shortfalls. The most recent Elucd data found that 63 percent of Americans supported direct federal payments to the states to avoid cuts in state services. And this week, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that vast majorities of Americans opposed cuts to K-12 public education (80 percent), police and safety (75 percent) and Medicaid (74 percent). Majorities also opposed cuts to social services (60 percent), higher education (55 percent), prisons and jails (54 percent) and environmental protection (53 percent). However, only 39 percent opposed cuts to transportation; 57 percent supported decreasing transportation spending to balance state budgets.
  • Morning Consult has launched a multiyear survey project into the attitudes of Generation Z (i.e., people born after 1997). So far, the coronavirus pandemic seems to be the seminal event for this generation: 78 percent of “Zoomers” (a nickname that has now taken on a double meaning with our new reliance on video conferencing during the pandemic!) said the outbreak has had a major impact on their worldview. Roughly tied for a distant second place were mass shootings (57 percent), the Sept. 11 attacks (56 percent) and President Trump’s election (55 percent).
  • A new Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll showed that Hawaiians have soured on once-popular Rep. Tulsi Gabbard since her failed presidential run. Only 28 percent of voters statewide viewed her positively, while 49 percent viewed her negatively. Gov. David Ige was also unpopular, with only 20 percent having a positive opinion of him and 54 percent having a negative opinion. That makes Ige a notable outlier, as governors nationwide have seen a surge in popularity amid the pandemic.
  • Add one to the list of outrageously good Senate polls for Democrats: A new South Carolina survey from Democratic pollster Civiqs, sponsored by Daily Kos, found Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison, tied at 42 percent. However, that same poll gave Trump a 52 percent to 42 percent lead over former Vice President Joe Biden, so many of the voters who said they were undecided or would vote for a third-party candidate in the Senate race (16 percent altogether) may eventually vote Republican.
  • In a 2014 referendum, Scotland voters said they did not want to secede from the United Kingdom — but that was before Brexit, which most Scots opposed. Now, some Scottish politicians are pushing for a second independence referendum. According to a new Ipsos MORI poll, 63 percent of Scots agree, with 34 percent wanting such a referendum to be held in the next two years. Only 34 percent never want to hold another #indyref.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.0 points). At this time last week, 42.8 percent approved and 53.5 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.7 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.6 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.6 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.0 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 7.7 percentage points (48.2 percent to 40.5 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 7.9 points (48.2 percent to 40.3 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.9 points (48.3 percent to 40.4 percent).

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

Nathaniel Rakich is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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