Checking in with Americans on Reopening Their Communities

May 29, 2020

America’s Hidden Common Ground on the Coronavirus: Results from the second wave of a Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos survey of Americans’ views on reopening their communities

Americans see the virus as a personal threat:

Regardless of political affiliation, Americans see the pandemic as more of a threat to their physical health than to their mental health and financial well-being. Somewhat more Democrats (45%) see the virus as a threat to their physical health than Republicans (36%) or Independents (33%).

  • A large majority of Americans continue to say COVID-19 is a threat to the global economy (72%) and the United States (65%).
  • As economies across the United States reopen, perceived threat to the stock market from COVID-19 has decreased (58%, down 16 percentage points). This decrease is reflected across party lines: Independents (52%, down 21 percentage points), Democrats (61%, down 20 percentage points), and Republicans (55%, down 13 percentage points).

Americans are supporting each other:

More Americans report that they have donated money, supplies or time to community members in need (37% in May and 28% in March). Only 13% of Americans – nonetheless representing millions of people – have asked for help from people or organizations in their community. Around 7 in 10 Americans continue to report supporting local businesses since the coronavirus began (75% in May and 69% in March).

About half of Americans (48%) have publicly expressed support for health care workers while 16% have expressed their opinion about the pandemic through protests or contacting elected officials.

Nearly two thirds of Americans (62%) say there is more common ground on how to address the coronavirus among the American people than the news media and political leaders portray, including 72% of Republicans, 57% of Democrats and 57% of Independents.

Cautious optimism about how communities will fare:

Americans are cautiously optimistic about the effects of the virus on their communities. A plurality (48%) think their community will suffer in the short term but recover in the long term. More say their community will emerge stronger than ever (15%) than say it will never recover (6%).  These findings are similar to those in the March 2020 survey.

Americans’ priorities may be shifting towards the economy and away from health: 

Most Americans (62%) think the government’s priority should be preventing the virus from spreading and keeping people from getting sick or dying – a drop of ten percentage points from March when 72% prioritized preventing the virus from spreading. The May survey finds that almost a third of Americans think the government’s main priority should be keeping the economy strong in order to avoid a recession (29%, up eight percentage points from the March 2020 survey).

These changes are due to a dramatic 23-percentage-point decline in the share of Republicans who think the government’s priority should be preventing the virus from spreading and keeping people from getting sick or dying (41% of Republicans in May vs. 64% in March) and a smaller 9-percentage-point decrease for Independents (61% in May vs. 70% in March). Democrats remain statistically unchanged (82% in May vs. 80% in March).

Nonetheless, three-quarters of Americans (77%) agree that the economy should be rebooted slowly and carefully to avoid spreading the virus. Majorities of Republicans (69%), Democrats (86%) and Independents (76%) support this approach.

Most Americans agree (45% strongly and 24% somewhat) that people who are protesting to reopen states are endangering the lives of others, but more Democrats (84%) and Independents (71%) agree than Republicans (53%).

Cross-partisan preferences for states taking the lead on reopening:

Across partisan lines, more Americans think that decisions about when and how to reopen economies should be primarily made by state governments, rather than the federal government or local governments.

  • Two in five Americans (42%) think state governments should decide when and how to reopen economies (35% of Republicans, 50% of Democrats, and 45% of Independents), while 20% say local governments should decide.
  • Only 16% of Americans say the federal government should take the lead on decisions about reopening, a stark indicator of lack of faith in the federal government. Even fewer think reopening should be up to individuals or businesses (11%).
  • Half of Americans agree that their state’s response has been less politicized than the federal government response.

Most Americans support several approaches to reopening, including cross-partisan support for wearing face coverings in public:

Only about one-third of Americans (34%) overall agree that restrictions and closures have been too severe. Just over half of Republicans (54%) say that restrictions have been too severe, but only 21% of Democrats and 32% of Independents agree.

Of the several ways in which states are responding to the coronavirus pandemic, self-quarantines, face coverings in public, and social distancing in stores garner the strongest support.

  • Most Americans (88%) support people self-quarantining for 14 days if they are exposed to the coronavirus, with sweeping support among Republicans (85%), Democrats (90%), and Independents (87%).
  • A majority of Americans (77%) support the idea that people should wear face coverings in public, including 67% of Republicans, 87% of Democrats and 75% of Independents.
  • Seventy-six percent of Americans support the idea that stores, restaurants and other businesses in the service industry should reopen but require everyone to stay at least six feet apart. There are no differences by political affiliation in the strength of people’s support for this measure.
  • Two-thirds of Americans (62%) support the idea that schools should prepare for online and distance learning for the 2020-2021 school year. Parents are no more supportive of this idea than non-parents (61% and 64%, respectively). Fewer Republicans (50%) than Democrats (73%) or Independents (61%) support the idea of schools preparing for online learning in the next school year.
  • A majority of Americans (61%) support the idea that elderly and other at-risk people should stay at home but restrictions on younger, healthier people should be reduced. This idea garners more support among Republicans (72%) than Democrats (54%) or Independents (56%).
  • The idea for reopening that Democrats and Republicans respond to most differently is prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people until there is a coronavirus treatment or vaccine. A majority of Americans (64%) support this idea. But there is a 29-percentage point difference in support between Republicans (49%) and Democrats (78%), with Independents falling in the middle (62%).

Few Americans support jail time or house arrest for violating social distancing rules:

  • Half of Americans (49%) predict that most or almost all individuals and businesses in their community would follow social distancing measures if the economy in their community reopened with those measures in place.
  • The most popular way of enforcing all the social distancing measures that this survey asked about is community members encouraging or pressuring others to comply.
  • However, when it comes to prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people until there is a vaccine, slightly more people think the police should issue a ticket or fine to those who do not comply (31%) than think that community members should encourage and pressure people to comply (28%).
  • Across the board, Independents are most likely to support community members encouraging and pressuring people to comply as an enforcement method.
  • More Republicans think that it should be up to individuals or organizations to comply with social distancing in stores (39%), wearing face coverings in public (38%), continued stay-at-home orders for the elderly and at-risk people with reductions for younger and healthier people (41%), and banned gatherings of more than 10 people (39%) when compared to the other enforcement measures.
  • More Democrats think that community members should encourage and pressure people to comply with social distancing in stores (40%), 14-day quarantines for those exposed (34%), continued stay-at-home orders for elderly and at-risk people with reductions for younger and healthier people (40%) when compared to the other enforcement methods.
  • More Democrats (36%) support police issuing a ticket or fine for those not wearing a face covering (compared to 19% of Republicans and 28% of Independents). More Democrats (40%) also support police issuing a ticket or fine for those gathering in groups of more than 10 (compared to 21% of Republicans and 25% of Independents).

These are the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between May 22-26, 2020 on behalf of Public Agenda and USA Today. For this survey, a sample of 1,004 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.

The Hidden Common Ground Initiative™ challenges the increasingly dominant narrative of a hopelessly divided America by identifying and elevating the areas where Americans agree on politically polarized issues and by fostering productive dialogue on those areas where we truly disagree.

Hidden Common Ground 2020 is the latest and most exciting iteration of our HCG initiative. Throughout the presidential election season it will involve public opinion research on major issues, innovative journalism and commentary, broad-based public engagement, “Strange Bedfellows” storytelling, and community-based dialogues and events. It is supported by a diverse group of foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation of New Yorkthe John S. and James L. Knight Foundationthe Charles Koch Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as through the generosity of individual donors. In addition, the Kettering Foundation is a research partner of the initiative.

Divisiveness and Collaboration in America is the first research publication of our Hidden Common Ground 2020 partnership.

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Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos Hidden Common Ground Second Survey on Coronavirus Focuses on Reopening America

Majority Agree on the Need to Reboot the Economy Slowly and Carefully

New York, NY (June 3, 2020) The second coronavirus Public Agenda Hidden Common GroundTM snapshot survey, “Checking in with Americans on Reopening their Communities,” found that over three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) feel that the economy should reopen at a slow pace and with safety measures to avoid spreading the virus. This sentiment spanned majorities regardless of political affiliation, with Republicans (69 percent), Democrats (86 percent) and Independents (76 percent). 

The survey was conducted prior to protests against police violence that have occurred across the nation. The next Hidden Common Ground, to be released in June, will address the topic of race and policing in America. Read Public Agenda’s “Reflections on Recent Events.” As current events in this country continue to shift quickly, Public Agenda is working to find the hidden common ground.

“Our research shows substantial cross-partisan agreement on how to respond to COVID-19,” said Will Friedman, President of Public Agenda. “Certainly there are differences of opinion, but most are matters of emphasis rather than yawning gaps.”

In fact, nearly two thirds of the 1,004 Americans surveyed (62 percent) say there is more common ground on how to address the coronavirus among the American people than the news media and political leaders portray, including 72 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents.

As the country considers reopening in response to the coronavirus, there is a beat of cautious optimism. A plurality of Americans (48 percent) think their community will suffer in the short term but recover in the long term. More say their community will emerge stronger than ever (15 percent) than say it will never recover (6 percent). These findings are similar to those found in Public Agenda’s  March survey, “Hidden Common Ground: Community Responses to the Coronavirus.”

“A plurality of people believe the impacts from the coronavirus on their communities will not be permanent,” said David Schleifer, Vice President and Director of Research at Public Agenda. “Most Americans support various common-sense approaches to reopening, including majority cross-partisan support for wearing face coverings in public.”

In Public Agenda’s second month of tracking opinions about coronavirus, Americans’ focus has begun to shift somewhat toward the challenge of opening up the economy. Most Americans (62 percent) still think the government’s priority should be preventing the virus from spreading and keeping people from getting sick or dying. However, this is a drop of ten percentage points from findings in March. The May survey found that almost a third of Americans think the government’s main priority should be keeping the economy strong in order to avoid a recession (29 percent, up eight percentage points from the March survey). 

Across partisan lines, more Americans think that decisions about when and how to reopen economies should be primarily made by state governments, rather than the federal government or local governments.

  • Two in five Americans (42 percent) think state governments should decide when and how to reopen economies, while 20 percent say local governments should make decisions about reopening. 
  • Only 16 percent of Americans say the federal government should take the lead, a stark indicator of lack of faith in the federal government. Even fewer think reopening should be up to individuals or businesses (11 percent).
  • Half of Americans agree that their state’s response has been less politicized than the federal government response. 

Only about one-third of Americans overall indicate thinking that restrictions and closures have been too severe. But just over half of Republicans (54 percent) think so compared to only 21 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Independents. 

When asked about face coverings, a majority of Americans (77 percent) support the idea that people should wear face coverings in public, including 67 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Independents. Majorities across party lines also support social distancing in stores, restaurants and other service industries, as well as supporting self-quarantining for people who may have been exposed to the virus. 

These are the findings of a Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos poll conducted between May 22-26, 2020. For this survey, a sample of 1,004 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Read the full report: Hidden Common GroundTM Snapshot Survey: Checking in with Americans on Reopening their Communities.

Hidden Common Ground is an initiative spearheaded by Public Agenda and USA Today and whose partners include America Amplified, the National Issues Forum, Ipsos, and Vote.org. It is supported by a diverse group of foundations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, as well as by individual donors. The Kettering Foundation serves as a research partner to the initiative. The aim is to explore the possibility that there is more common ground among the public on solutions to today’s issues than is typically acknowledged and leveraged for the common good, and, to the extent this is true, to elevate that common ground in the public discourse during the election year. Forthcoming Hidden Common Ground 2020 studies will explore race and policing, immigration, voting, and economic opportunity. 

About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonpartisan research and public engagement organization dedicated to a healthy, just, and effective democracy. We support informed citizens, engaged communities, and responsive public institutions. We also elevate diverse voices, build common ground and foster progress on issues of concern to the American public. These include K-12 education, higher education, health care, economic opportunity, and democracy reform. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org, and on social media at FB@publicagenda/Twitter@publicagenda/Instagram@publicagenda_.

About USA TODAY

Founded in 1982, USA TODAY reflects the pulse of the nation, serving as host of the American conversation by delivering high-quality, engaging content through unique visual storytelling across all platforms. A media innovator, USA TODAY reaches nearly 100 million unique visitors each month across digital platforms, with more than 125 million downloads of our award-winning app. USA TODAY also remains the nation’s number one newspaper and is owned by Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI).