Many want churches to reopen with socially distanced religious services

May 29, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

Opening churches is among the first goals for many Americans (and for President Donald Trump) as the country starts to end its coronavirus sheltering in place orders. Though the pace of reopening the economy varies from state to state and county to county, the latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds the nation divided on whether churches should reopen. The nation is divided by both political party and by religion.

There are more popular goals than opening churches, however. While fewer than half (45%) would reopen the churches, even more would reopen beaches (55%) and restaurants (53%). Most would not yet reopen bars, gyms or schools. But nearly two in three (64%) of those who normally attend religious services weekly or more, as well as Americans who describe themselves as “born again” want churches reopened.

Reopening churches should come with limits, however. Only 18 percent of Americans would allow churches to operate without any restrictions, as before. Most say the rules of social distancing should apply at religious services and that there should be restrictions on the number of worshippers permitted to attend. This opinion exists among nearly all groups, though somewhat smaller majorities of Republicans, those who attend services at least weekly, and those who consider themselves born-again agree.

That’s true as well for those who say churches should definitely or probably open, although half of the 25 percent who would “definitely reopen” churches would not place any restrictions on how churches operate; 44 percent of them would. 

The question of reopening the country is divisive: just about as many Americans say reopening is the right decision as think it is the wrong one. Partisanship matters: about three-quarters (72%) of Republicans call reopening it the right decision, while Democrats say it is wrong by three to one (63% to 20%). 

Opinion also is related the belief about where in the pandemic’s cycle the United States is right now, as well as opinions about stay at home orders in general. Even though two in three Americans overall expect a second wave of the virus after the country reopens, only half of Republicans do. The same share of Republicans say the worst of the epidemic is behind us and more than half approve of the protests to reopen the economy and are dubious about the effectiveness of stay at home orders (however, three in four Republicans believe social distancing is effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19). 

Democrats and Independents call both effective.  

The president announced his surprising use of hydroxychloroquine before the poll conducted. Americans are more likely to call the treatment ineffective or dangerous (40% now, up ten points from last month) than they are to say it is definitely or possibly effective (30% say that today; it was 33% a month ago).  

But Americans may understand the president’s willingness to try an unproven treatment, as there continues to be concern that more people in government could contract the virus. But, a majority aren’t concerned about the government being able to function in this circumstance; even a majority who think more infections are likely say they have little or no concern about that. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll 

Image: Getty