POLL: Americans Think Pandemic Is Worsening, But Few Will Stay Home

covid public opinion
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Public opinion of the COVID crisis has reached an interesting impasse.

As COVID-19 cases are surging once again across the United States, a rise long-predicted by experts who feared the convergence of the coronavirus with flu season and winter. However, a new Gallup poll shows that fewer Americans are looking to hunker down at home to curb the spread of the virus.

The poll, released last week, asked participants if they would be willing to remain home for a month if health officials said it was necessary to contain a “serious” outbreak. Almost half, 49% of respondents, said they were “very likely” to do so.

The results represent a sharp decline from April, when Gallup conducted its last such survey. At that time, 67% of respondents said they were very likely to stay home if health officials said it was necessary. That’s represents an 18% drop.

Still, not everyone in Wednesday’s poll was ardently opposed to the possibility of a strict stay-at-home order. 18% of participants said they would be “somewhat likely” to stay home if necessary. Meanwhile, 33% said they were either “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to heed a monthlong stay-at-home order.

Cases Surge, Vigilance Wavers

covid public opinion map
Image: New York Times

Gallup conducted the poll with about 3,000 adults in late October, at the same time that coronavirus cases began to surge across the country. By the time of the poll’s release, the US had added more than 100,000 new cases every day for a week. Most Americans seem to recognize the virus surge, even if they are relaxing their methods of curbing it.

The same poll found that 61% of respondents believed the pandemic was getting worse in the US. That’s a major increase from the 40% who told Gallup in April that the virus was worsening. Meanwhile, Wednesday’s survey found that only 23% of respondents believed the virus was getting better.

And yet, when asked if they properly “isolated” with people outside their households, only 38% said they “completely” or “mostly” respected social-distancing guidelines. At the same time, about a quarter of those polled claimed they “partially” isolated, and 35% said they isolated a little or not at all.

Pandemic Politics

If so many respondents believe the pandemic is worsening, why are so many also flouting safety protocols? Gallup data suggest that it comes down to politics.

With the pandemic becoming the number-one issue in the recent presidential election, partisans took opposing positions on the best way to respond to the virus. Democratic candidates, led by President-Elect Joe Biden, advocated for serious measures to curb the virus’ spread, and accused the Trump Administration of not taking the danger seriously. Republicans, on the other hand, rallied around President Trump, who frequently made fun of measures like facial masks and criticized many governors who instituted statewide stay-at-home orders.

The dual realities of America’s political tribes contributed to the surprising poll results, says Gallup. “Most of the decline in Americans’ willingness to follow shelter-in-place advice is due to a sharp drop among Republicans – falling 40% in Gallup’s latest polling, from 74% in the spring,” Gallup wrote alongside its survey results. “Democrats’ willingness to stay at home has remained high, at 87% today versus 91% in March and April.”

As of midday November 23, The New York Times reported a total of 12.3 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States since it made landfall in March. The death toll has reached 257,000.

COVID Public Opinion — Sources

New York Times – Numbers
New York Times – Heat Map
Gallup