America prioritizes public health and maintaining closures, despite economic impact

May 01, 2020, 7:05 PM UTC

Many Americans thinking about the COVID-19 crisis are conflicted between prioritizing the public’s health or the health of the economy.  Six in 10 (61%) in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll view unemployment as a very serious national problem, and almost as many describe the economy as getting worse and see the country as in a recession now.  

By more than two to one, however, today’s priority remains public health (68%) over protecting Americans from the economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak (32%). And while Americans believe certain open spaces should reopen, a majority believe that gyms, restaurants, and schools need to remain closed. 

When it comes to what’s necessary to reopen the country as a whole, expectations differ by party. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe that opening up the country and ending social distancing could be safe to do soon.  

About one in five (17%) Republicans think social distancing could end today. Only 2 percent of Democrats agree. Half of Republicans say social distancing will end by June 1, twice the percentage of Democrats who think that.

COVID-19: Local and National Effects

The pattern is similar when it comes to fully re-opening the economy. Nearly one in five (17%) Republicans and only 1 percent of Democrats say that can safely be done now.

For the most part, Americans find the stay-at-home orders acceptable and very effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19. By three to one, they don’t consider them violations of constitutional rights.  Republicans generally agree, although about half (47%) call stay-at-home orders very effective (three in four call them somewhat effective). While one in five overall sees stay-at-home orders as infringing on constitutional rights, more than a third of Republicans say they do infringe on those rights. 

COVID-19: Personal Effects

Asked about specific businesses that could reopen now, Americans make clear distinctions about what should open and what should remain closed.  More than half the public says outside activities, like public parks (68%) and golf courses (56%), should definitely or probably be open.   

Overall support drops for several of the businesses that are being opened in some states, like beauty salons, churches, and restaurants, with partisans disagreeing about opening them.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans think bars, casinos, gyms, or tattoo parlors (which are allowed to open in Georgia) should be open now.

Americans also don’t want to open schools now. Nearly three-quarters of those who have children under the age of 18 do not want the schools to open now. About one in five (21%) would open them.  Republican parents agree: seven in ten GOP parents would not reopen the schools.

These choices come at a hard time for many Americans. One in four overall – and a third of all full-time employees  – say their work hours have been reduced. More than one in 10 Americans (14%) have been laid off.

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

Related: Most Americans have not heard of Remdesivir, the experimental COVID-19 drug

Image: Getty