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Americans see better days ahead in pandemic and economy — CBS News poll

CBS News poll: Americans see better days ahead
CBS News poll: Americans see better days ahea... 04:31

Though "exhausted" from a year-long pandemic, confidence about containing the coronavirus is hitting new highs as more vaccines roll out, and Americans say they're also "grateful" and widely optimistic about the coming months. The economy seems poised for its own shot in the arm, with Americans bullish about its prospects, both nationally and locally, and looking forward to fueling it by traveling, shopping and dining out more — once they think it's safe.

Precisely when they'll think it's safe is uncertain, and it won't be right away. For some, it won't be until they're vaccinated themselves. Others are waiting for cases to come down further, even if they've gotten the shot, and right now, many remain wary of venturing into crowded places. Concern about new variants weighs on others. 

On the political front, this adds up to good marks for President Biden, who gets very high ratings for his handling of the outbreak, with over two-thirds approving, as well as for managing the vaccine distribution. Plus the just-signed relief bill remains extremely popular, with most feeling it will help both the economy and help them, personally.

But if all this optimism is predicated on America vaccinating everyone by summer, then partisan differences are injecting some added uncertainty: Republicans — particularly younger Republicans — continue to be more reluctant to get the vaccine, just as they've been less concerned about the virus generally, as well as more skeptical of restrictions.

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As they look across many specific parts of the economy, national and local, most see reason for hope. They're optimistic about their local job market, their local economy and that businesses can reopen safely, as well for the stock market's prospects. 

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And a majority believes the newly signed relief bill will help them, personally, as well as help the economy overall — particularly for working-class and lower-income people more so than the wealthy.

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This optimism could spur growth if Americans return to activities they've avoided — and they say they're looking forward to doing just that, in sectors like travel, and restaurants — or by spending, as they look forward to things like "shopping" and "getting dressed up" again along with visiting friends.

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But importantly, there's a difference between what Americans are looking forward to doing (which is a lot) and what they're willing to do right now (far less). So if the U.S. economy is poised to grow based on Americans' confidence and willingness, there's going to be a lag until many more feel safe. This isn't going to happen all at once. 

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When they look around to gauge safety, people will use different metrics. For many, it'll be safe when most people in their community are vaccinated, not just them. Others will look at the stats for when cases come down. Few are comfortable being in crowds right now.

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But Americans believe the trend line in containing the virus is improving, with 64% saying efforts are going well right now — the highest since CBS News began polling on the outbreak last March. And in the months ahead, six in 10 expect the outbreak to get better and only one in 10 think it will get worse, a brighter outlook that spans party lines. "People (are) getting vaccinated" is a big reason Americans give for it. They also say doctors and scientists can treat the virus better now, and that we know more about it generally. 

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All that prompts many to say they'll be patient about restrictions, though others — in particular, Republicans — are not.

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Given the mixed views on when to venture out, there is no consensus about whether states should be reopening and lifting restrictions at their current rates. Nearly half say their state is doing it right. The rest either think it's going too fast or too slow for their liking. That's hardly new. Throughout the pandemic there have been sharp differences on how to handle restrictions, usually defined by partisan breaks, as they still are today. 

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Mr. Biden's ratings are strong for handling both the outbreak and the vaccine rollout. Even four in 10 Republicans — a bit striking in an era of sharp partisan splits on most presidential measures — approve of how Mr. Biden is handling the rollout.

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Mr. Biden's overall approval is also strong, as is his rating for handling the economy. (This, even though most don't say the economy is good right now, but are hopeful about it and the relief bill.)

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For Democrats, views on the U.S. efforts are more closely tied to the president: they almost uniformly think efforts are going well and that Mr. Biden is doing a good job on it, but during former President Donald Trump's administration, they thought the opposite on both counts. (In January before Mr. Biden took office, just 15% of Democrats said efforts to contain the virus were going well — that number has jumped to 73% today.) 

For Republicans today, most also think U.S. efforts are going well (and they continue to be less concerned about the virus, as they have been all year) but they don't say Mr. Biden is doing a good job, in particular. Looking back over the past year, Republicans also consider the efforts to contain the virus to have been an overall success, but Democrats, and a majority of Americans overall, do not.

Taken together, then, we find an America that describes a mix of emotions about dealing with the pandemic: "exhausted" sometimes and "stressed," but nonetheless "grateful" and often "calm," with still many saying they're patient about restrictions. We still find partisan differences — if not wholesale division — over the extent of the pandemic and what to do about it, but nonetheless widely optimistic about prospects for the coming months as they look ahead. It's optimism that may depend on a continued vaccine rollout, and which also depends on when more Americans feel it safe to venture out.

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This CBS News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2,382 U.S. residents interviewed between March 10-13, 2021. 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 the 2020 presidential vote and registration status. The margin of error is ± 2.2 points.

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