Americans see risks in reopening the economy

May 08, 2020, 4:30 PM UTC

America is beginning to open up again, as many states attempt to mitigate the effect of coronavirus on the economy. Sheltering at home is not an acceptable policy to some, who find it a violation of Constitutional rights, and believe the days of social distancing should be over. But in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, most Americans prioritize health over the economy and continue to disapprove of protests demanding that rules be relaxed. 

COVID-19: Local and National Effects

Most of the protests have taken place in states with Democratic Governors, and Republicans are more likely to approve of the protests. They are almost evenly divided on the question, as compared to the public overall, which is more than twice as likely to disapprove than to approve. About one in five (19%) of the country sees stay at home orders as violations of rights.

Only about one in 10 individuals (11%) believes that it is safe to stop social distancing now (a third say that will be the case by June 1). Eight in 10 overall think that social distancing is an effective way of limiting the spread of COVID-19. Only 10 percent believe it is safe to re-open the national economy now. Instead, many are worried about what will happen next. More than a third of the public believes the pandemic is only going to get worse — and even more say opening up the economy is likely to increase the number of COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19: Local and National Effects

Americans also want to protect workers in a reopening economy. By 67% to 13%, they say that if workers refuse to come back to work because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19, they should not be fired. Many also want to protect the businesses opening in accordance with their state’s rules from responsibility if their employees contract the virus. About two in five (42%) say they should not be held responsible if employees get sick, about one-third (37%) think they should.

Most Republicans (63%) say business owners should not be held responsible if their employees contract COVID-19. Most Democrats (52%) feel the opposite.

Americans are continuing to take precautions: 75 percent, the highest percentage in Economist/YouGov Polls, are wearing face masks. Last week, 68 percent reported this. In the Northeast, 91 percent now report wearing a face mask.

Unlike the protestors, most of the country rejects many re-openings. Two-thirds would not open bars, gyms, tattoo parlors, or schools. Majorities agree that beauty salons, restaurants, and churches should remain closed, and would not restart NASCAR races. 

While reopening outdoor places like golf clubs and parks receive majority support, Americans are less sure about opening beaches. Perhaps because of televised images of crowded beaches seen in the last week, half the country would keep beaches closed. About two in five (43%) would open them. 

For most of the country, health is the priority. By two to one, the public says it is more important for the government to protect people from the health effects of the coronavirus than to protect the public from the economic effects. 

This prioritizing of health over economic concerns in this question has been the case since the end of March, the first time the question was asked. Then, 71 percent said protecting Americans from health effects was more important, while 29 percent prioritized protection from the economic effects, percentages not much different from those seen today. Today, even those who have personally been laid off from work say protecting Americans’ health is more important than reopening the economy (57% vs 43%).

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

Related: How Americans view sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden and Donald Trump

Image: Getty