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Americans prioritize staying home and worry restrictions will lift too fast — CBS News poll

Americans prioritize health over reopening economy
Americans prioritize health over reopening ec... 07:40

Health concerns still take precedence over economic concerns by a wide margin for Americans in their views on when to reopen the economy — both in what they want for the nation, and in what they'd do themselves. Many say they need to be confident the coronavirus outbreak is over before returning to public places, and big majorities of all partisans agree the stay-at-home orders are effective.

The health concerns may be so salient that even for those whose finances have been impacted and even for those concerned about job loss, most of them still worry the country will open up too fast.

Sixty-three percent of Americans are more worried about restrictions lifting too fast and worsening the outbreak — than worry about lifting restrictions too slowly and worsening the economy.

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And what would Americans actually do if restrictions were lifted right now? Would anyone show up to public places or would they be too worried about health risks? That could be the most important factor in the economy.

Only 13% say they would definitely return to public places over the next few weeks if restrictions were lifted right now, regardless of what else happened with the outbreak.

Almost half — 48% — say they would not return to public places until they were confident the outbreak was over. Another 39% are "maybes": they'd return depending on whether they saw the outbreak getting better.  

These views are not decidedly partisan: most Republicans are "maybes" at best, as are most Democrats and independents.

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Small numbers for specific things:

  • Only 13% would be comfortable going to a large sports or entertainment event.
  • Only 15% would be comfortable getting on an airplane.
  • 29% would be comfortable going to restaurants or bars.
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Under half —44% — would be comfortable going to a workplace outside the home, though among those who are currently employed, 57% would be comfortable.

Most would be comfortable visiting friends.

Asked to directly prioritize two tough choices for the nation, health also wins by a roughly similar two-to-one margin. Seventy percent of Americans say keeping people home and social distancing should continue to be the nation's top priority — even if it means the economy is hurt in the short term — and 30% say to send people back to work even if that means increased health risks. But that number has moved, even as it remains a large majority. It was 83% who prioritized staying home three weeks ago.

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Underpinning all of this is are at least two key factors:

First, most don't think the virus will be contained for at least a few more months — in fact, fewer people believe the virus will be contained soon than thought so roughly a month ago. And most still don't think the fight against the virus is going well.

Second, many Americans tell us that despite the concern about the economy and their own finances, they think they can last at least a few more weeks before the financial effects of the outbreak hit them. 

Forty-one percent think they can go on at least another few weeks before finances become a problem, and another 17% don't think they'll be affected. There are one-third who say they've already been impacted — but even for them, most say they're more concerned the country will open up too fast, and say the nation's priority should be to slow the virus.

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Meanwhile most Americans think stay-at-home orders around the country are working, a view that cuts across party lines. Three in four say that the measures so far are effective when it comes to limiting the spread of the virus nationwide, including large percentages of Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

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Americans say governors — not the president — should decide when to open

Most Americans say their state's governor should make the decisions about whether to reopen the economy in their area, rather than President Trump, or their local county or city officials.

And most say widespread testing is a necessity for doing so.

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Republicans, too, would rather the decision go to their governor than to the president.

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Most Americans also feel widespread testing is necessary before the opening up the country, though partisan differences are more pronounced on that. Most Democrats and independents think testing is needed. Republicans are less likely to think so.

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Overall, Americans give their state and local officials in general higher marks for handling the coronavirus than Donald Trump.

More than two-thirds of Americans think their state and local officials are doing a good job, while fewer than half think the same of Donald Trump.

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Views of the president's overall handling of the outbreak remain under half at 48%, little changed from two weeks ago after starting off last month in positive territory.

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Positive assessments for state and local officials cut across party lines. But partisan divisions remain stark when assessing the president:  55% of Republicans say he is doing a very good job, 69% of Democrats say he is doing a very bad one. Independents are split. 

Overall, most continue to think things are going badly for the U.S. in its effort to deal with the outbreak, and those assessments are also similar to two weeks ago. Most also see months to go — not weeks — before the nation has it under control.

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Most Americans oppose protesters

A majority of Americans (62%) oppose the protesters who have been in state capitals recently calling for lifting of state lockdowns; by nearly three to one Americans oppose, rather than support them.

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Slightly more Republicans oppose them than support them, too.

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Ideologically, it is only the very conservative (not moderates nor the somewhat conservative) among whom the protesters find majority support — and even there, it's 6 in 10.

Very few Americans — only 7% — feel President Trump should encourage these protests. Only 13% of Republicans think he should encourage them. In fact, only a quarter of people who support the protesters think the president should encourage the protests.

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These views come as many Americans are still concerned about potentially getting the virus, and say the priority for the country should be continuing the stay-at-home orders even over the economy.

Public supports small business relief but believes funds going to big businesses

The public overwhelmingly approves of Congress passing additional legislation that would provide funds to small businesses impacted by the outbreak: approval stands at 88%, and crosses partisan lines to include about nine in 10 Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

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The idea of more money for small business may be especially welcome because many Americans think small business hasn't been getting as much of the funding given out thus far. By two to one, the public thinks federal funds have to this point been going to large businesses rather than small ones. 

Democrats are independents are especially apt to think the money has gone more to large business, and Republicans are split.

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Congress isn't in session in Washington at the moment, and most Americans, regardless of party affiliation, think Congress should return to Washington immediately to try to deal with the crisis.

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Neither the Congress nor the president are seen by a majority as doing a good job handling the outbreak. Forty-one percent say Congress is doing a good job, with 59% saying a bad one. Here Democrats, Republicans, and independents are largely in agreement.  That 41% is a relatively lower number for Congress' handling the outbreak than the president's 48%.


This CBS News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,112 U.S. residents interviewed between April 20-22, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 presidential vote and registration status. The margin of error is +/- 2.5 points.

Poll toplines:

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