New Poll Says a Majority of Americans Would Privilege Slowing the Spread of COVID-19 Over Restarting the Economy (Despite the Relentless Assault of Get Back to Work, Slackers! Propaganda)

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

A  hot-off-the-presses Washington Post- ABC News poll says the majority of Americans surveyed would prefer policies that slow the spread of COVID-19, even if they come at the expense of restarting the economy.

This poll was taken before the recent riots swept across the country to slam businesses with physical damage as they were just beginning to reopen their doors, according to the Wall Street Journal, Retailers and Restaurants Hit in Protests, Adding to Coronavirus Damage:

Many retailers and restaurants, already crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, are grappling with damage to their properties and new closures following protests sparked by the death of George Floyd that have sometimes turned violent.

From Minneapolis, where Mr. Floyd died while handcuffed and in police custody, to California and Georgia, big and small retailers and restaurants have shut locations in anticipation of violence or are working to rebuild after destruction over the past week.

And poll results show resistance to business interest-driven propaganda that purport to show many Americans (of the US variety) either itching to get back to work for the sheer pleasure  of so doing, or beg to be able to resume their jobs driven by desperation and the failure of U.S. politicians to assist their constituents economically – as by contrast virtually every other developed country has done – so they can shelter in place and not have to trade off their health against their basic economic survival.

Source of Results, Partisan Divide

Now, my right-wing friends would emphasize that the poll results reported accord with the policy preferences of the source: ABC News/the Washington Post – a point I should acknowledge up front, which I hereby do, and pass along to you.

More telling I think is the observation that the polling results correspond to the partisan preferences of respondents. As the Washington Post tells the story in Despite widespread economic toll, most Americans still favor controlling outbreak over restarting economy, Post-ABC poll finds:

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the coronavirus outbreak has exacted a severe economic toll on their communities, but a majority of a divided country still says controlling the virus’s spread is more important than trying to restart the economy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The nationwide survey finds that despite the shared disruption of their daily lives since stay-at-home orders began, partisans differ sharply on how the country should move forward.

In the starkest split, 57 percent of Americans overall and 81 percent of Democrats say trying to control the spread of the coronavirus is most important right now, even if it hurts the economy. A far smaller 27 percent of Republicans agree, while 66 percent of them say restarting the economy is more important, even if it hurts efforts to control the virus. Nearly 6 in 10 independents say their priority is trying to control the virus’s spread.

I was struck by the display of common sense reflected in the poll results. Again, relying on the Washington Post’s summary:

Americans are nearly as divided along partisan lines when asked whether they are willing to go to stores, restaurants and other public places “the way you did before the coronavirus outbreak.” Two-thirds of Republicans say they are willing to resume such activities, compared with 4 in 10 independents and fewer than 2 in 10 Democrats.

Overall, 58 percent of Americans say it is “too early” to go to stores, restaurants and other public places the way they did before.

Fearing the Future

And, tellingly, poll respondents fear the future. I suppose I should not be surprised by this result, given the relentless media coverage of the pandemic, reinforced by the large and steadily growing number of infections, meaning many now either have personal experience of COVID-19, or at least know someone who does. Per the Washington Post:

Despite declines in the rate of new infections in some parts of the country, personal fears persist, with 63 percent of Americans overall continuing to worry that they or a family member will catch the coronavirus. That is not far below the 69 percent who two months ago said they were worried.

So, the bottom line: the situation is far from improving, with many if not most fearing for the future. Which perhaps on first glance augurs poorly for Trump’s November chances.

Not so fast!

Yet  I don’t rule him out yet, as I know how badly the Democratic Party – particularly its mainstream portion –  can misplay a seemingly unassailable winning hand.

Again, relying on the Post’s account:

More broadly, nearly 7 in 10 say they are worried about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections in the fall, a specter that Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has warned could coincide with the start of flu season. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say they are worried about a second wave of infections, 88 percent versus 44 percent.

There is one aspect of the poll results which break well for Trump – and I must confess, leaves me scratching my head, knowing how he assisted by other players in the U.S. political system have botched the U.S. response to COVID – 19, especially as compared to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany, to name some obvious examples off the top of my head who’ve managed a more that competent, modern response to the pandemic. Over to the Washington Post:

Roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of the way their governors have handled the outbreak, including 69 percent of those with a Republican governor and 63 percent in states led by a Democrat. A much smaller 46 percent approve of President Trump’s handling of the outbreak, as reported Sunday.

But the Trump administration receives positive ratings on two aspects of its response, with 57 percent saying it has done an excellent or good job providing financial help to people who need it, and 54 percent saying the same about providing loans to help small businesses weather the effects of the outbreak. In late March, on top of two previous measures, Congress passed and Trump signed a $2.2 trillion aid package that included loans to small businesses, checks of $1,200 to most individual taxpayers and additional assistance to people who had lost their jobs.

The public splits about evenly on how the administration has coordinated federal and state responses to the pandemic, while 51 percent give the Trump administration negative marks for handling efforts to make a coronavirus test universally available. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]

So, if I read the poll results correctly, most people surveyed think has managed the pandemic response competently. Which is not what we would think blue partisans – or anyone, for that matter, would say.

There is, to be sure, a partisan split on the issue of deployment of unemployment benefits, according to the Washington Post:

Forty million Americans have applied for unemployment since March, but as states reopen, unemployment benefits have become a flash point. Congressional Democrats and Republicans, along with the White House, remain divided as they debate additional stimulus legislation.

The aid package in late March provided an extra $600 per week to people who lost their jobs during the outbreak, a grant that is scheduled to expire at the end of July. House Democrats passed a bill continuing the extra payments through early 2021, but Trump and key Republicans have opposed this, saying the extension could discourage people from returning to work.

The Post-ABC poll finds that 58 percent of Americans overall support extending the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits beyond July, while 35 percent say they should end in July as scheduled. But partisans are deeply split, with nearly 6 in 10 Republicans saying extra unemployment benefits should end in July, while nearly 6 in 10 independents and over three-quarters of Democrats say they should be extended.

The Key Takeaways

Two things leap out from these responses (although I confess, I am a bit bothered that the poll only surveyed 1000 responses).

I lay that caveat aside, however, to get to the money points.

First, a majority of U.S respondents surveyed favor measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus over restarting the economy – although there are partisan differences, to be sure.

And second it is far too soon to rule out Trump’s November electoral chances based on his handling of the pandemic so far. Those immersed in their corner of their respective blue bubbles may consider me crazy for raising this point – but I well understand that it takes more than blue partisans alone to settle a U.S. election.

The assessment of Trump’s chances could of course change drastically, especially if U.S. cities continue to burn and the pandemic resists our control. It’s still more than 4 months until  the election, and as Lambert emphasizes, that’s a long time in politics. A very long time.

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  1. Charles 2

    Rather than Democrats vs Republicans, I would like to know what the percentages are between, inactive persons, business owners and wage earners.
    I would expect the first group to be close to 100%, the second close to 0% (see equity disappear at speed focuses the mind) and the third mostly favourable, especially if they can work remotely.
    Controlling for these factors, I am not sure the political divide would be so big.

    1. Yves Smith

      No, your assumption re #2 is incorrect. There are some retail businesses even in the South that have not reopened (some restaurants) because they see it as unsafe. Ditto some gyms. And I know businesses that plan to cut way back once the PPP period is open because their orders have collapsed. Look at how every tech company is keeping its workforce out of the office to the extent they can. That says management doesn’t see conditions as safe enough to allow them back if they have the option of keeping them at home. This comes at some cost, like client sales calls.

      1. False Solace

        The mid-size tech company I work for has offices in 20 countries. We’re all working remote and have been since March, regardless of local conditions. This week management reiterated we should plan to continue remote work for several months. They acknowledged the situation is more under control in some APAC countries but they’re following the same policy. They’re very focused on cost-cutting.

        I’ve observed that even though my state has “reopened” almost all workplaces, there’s still no trace of normal AM or PM rush hour. Right now the highways should be clogged, but the traffic map shows nothing. And this has nothing to do with road closures or curfew in a few places, it’s been consistent for months.

  2. Louis Fyne

    I don’t trust any poll anymore–left/right, someone has a narrative to push and their narrative is too easy to push via good faith and bad faith polling methodologies.

    just being honest…to wit the only electoral polling I’ll trust is the actual results. but of course institutional trust is so rotten, regardless of the outcome, the losing side will say that the election was stolen

    1. Yves Smith

      The results on the lockdowns have been very consistent, no matter how the polls are conducted. A solid majority wants restrictions to continue. The margin of that majority has been declining slowly over time.

  3. Shiloh1

    Even AOC and Peter Schiff agree on one thing: as long as The Fed is printing $trillons digitally! and idiot foreign countries and investors are buying the paper treasuries, then why should anyone in the U.S. go to work while this scam is mesmerizing the rest of the world?

  4. shinola

    I would posit that it’s not really their jobs that people miss – it’s the paycheck.

    Also, that $600 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits means anyone who is normally paid $15 per hr. or less, is doing better, financially, on unemployment than they would working that 40 hr. per week jawb; and we can’t have that. It’s just sooo unfair to those poor employers. People might get the notion they deserve something close to a living wage.

    1. JBird4049

      If inflation and productivity increases had been added to the minimum wage as had happened until ~1970 the minimum wage would be over twenty dollars an hour. Likely close to twenty five an hour. The latter figure would be a doable amount in the San Francisco Bay Area. You would still probably spend more than half your net income on housing, but some good frugality would mean no hunger and some small luxuries like Netflix. Most places outside San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, you would be fine.

      This explains why retail has been getting worse over the years. Income has not even Kept up with inflation, which makes the arguments against increasing the minimum wage increasingly nonsensical. No income, no retail economy.

  5. L

    I would add an additional caveat to this analysis which is the impact of other issues. People vote for a president for a lot of different reasons, and all of us hold our nose on some things in favor of others. What I don’t see in this poll or in others is a question about whether this will affect their actual vote in the fall. So even if people disapprove of his handling of the pandemic will that make them vote for Biden or will they stick with Trump because of Law & Order, or tensions with the PRC, or trade etc.? That we don’t know.

    As a related point there are reports that the CCP is ordering people to cease purchases of US farm goods in retaliation for Trump’s orders on Hong Kong. If true this would represent both the abandonment of the Phase 1 deal, and a direct stab at Trump’s reelection by targeting his (theoretical) constituency.

    It would also represent an opportunity for Democrats to make inroads in rural areas but…

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Yes, see the Reuters clip re US pork and soybeans in today’s Links.

  6. Synoia

    Yet I don’t rule him out yet, as I know how badly the Democratic Party – particularly its mainstream portion – can misplay a seemingly unassailable winning hand

    Deliberately? Running Biden to loose, avoiding blame, and being able to blame the “stupid” voters?

    Or is the puppet master behind Biden Obama?

    1. carl

      Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but what does Biden actually stand for, besides not being Trump? Anything? Is that a good enough reason to most Ds and independents to vote for him?

      1. Arizona Slim

        Well, Slim is here and has something to tell everyone:

        I’m NOT Trump! So vote Slim for President!

        Wait a minute? I’m supposed to have a platform with policy proposals and my plans for bringing them about? Here it is!

        I’m NOT Trump!

        1. carl

          You certainly aren’t. When I know that I could do a better job than (insert name here, like GWB, or a myriad of others) there’s something rotten in the state of the USA.

  7. JBird4049

    From what I understand, Congress has passed over $6T in “stimulus” spending of which most has gone to big businesses instead of to the medium and small businesses, the unemployed, and just to everyone else as well. The direct stimulus of $1,200 was only thirty billion and many people still have not received their unemployment.

    $3.96T would be enough to give every man, woman, and child 2k every more month for six months. Giving it to households would be 3T. This would likely be a enough to keep everyone housed and feed, and maybe, just maybe stop a depression as well as help with the quarantine. Just extending the aid to a year would not cost anymore than was has been spent while reducing the economic collapse and reducing the pandemic.

    So no healthcare, precious little financial help, massive unemployment that is not going away for months or years, and the federal, state, and municipal governments general responses are go work (at the many nonexistent jobs) and ignore the lethal, soon to be reappearing epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of deaths for no good reason.

    So really, the campaigners (the Elites!) of this “Get Back to Work, Slackers!” project just want to kill millions, destroy the entire economy, and effectively start a civil war, right?

  8. rd

    I think many of the poll results are due to the barbell impacts of the virus to date. Some states have been absolutely hammered by it while others have had little impact. The places that have seen the full effects in person are much more likely to favor go slow approaches comapred to places that have only seen it on the news showing stuff in a distant city.

    I suspect if the numbers keep growing in the rural states and their ICUs fill up (some individual cities in the south and Midwest are starting to have that) and people are dying, then the poll discrepancies will start to even out. Summer time should be good for being active while social distancing, but not if people are packed together hootin’ and hollerin’. That could turn into the Bergamo soccer game for impacts.

  9. K teh

    Essentially, the Fed has pumped $6 trillion just so the tech companies can buyback their stock.

    Nearly any other option would win in a poll.

    Notwithstanding the suspect nature of polls.

  10. Sound of the Suburbs

    Jane Mayer “Dark Money”
    Billionaires keep organising these little protest groups to look as though there is widespread public support for what they want.
    As long as they can get enough media people to report on these little protests, it looks as though there is widespread public support.
    Not enough people are working and the billionaires don’t like it one bit.

    The only movement that did gain any real support was the Tea Party movement.

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