Graphic via Shutterstock
Graphic via Shutterstock

According to the findings released Tuesday, 67% of Americans said they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store and 78% said they would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. 

Governors across the nation may be rushing to lift restrictions and allow businesses to reopen, but a significant majority of Americans oppose these reopenings, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

The opposition underscores the disconnect between many state leaders and their constituents, who are afraid of contracting the coronavirus and do believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come. 

About half of the nation’s 50 states have eased restrictions on business under pressure from President Trump and right-wing protesters, but reopening the economy is all but certain to be a failure if most Americans are too scared to visit such businesses. While a little more than half of Americans (56%) are comfortable visiting grocery stores, 67% said they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store and 78% said they would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. 

Residents of states with looser restrictions reported similar levels of fear and discomfort as those in states with more stringent rules. Governors have said that easing restrictions on businesses marked the first step of a gradual reopening of their economies—which have been largely under lockdown for more than a month—but most Americans opposed ending restrictions on all eight types of businesses the poll asked about. 

That opposition—which is present in similar majorities in high-restriction and low-restriction states—breaks down as follows:

  • 82% of Americans oppose reopening movie theaters
  • 78% oppose reopening gyms
  • 74% oppose reopening dine-in restaurants and nail salons
  • 70% oppose reopening gun stores
  • 69% oppose reopening barbershops and hair salons
  • 66% oppose reopening retails hops
  • 59% oppose reopening golf courses

These views are driven by widespread concern over the virus, as 63% of Americans said they are still very or somewhat worried about contracting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill; only 36% saying they are either not too worried or not at all worried. These numbers represent a shift from a similar poll from two weeks ago that found 57% were worried about becoming seriously ill and 42% said they were not worried.

While states and cities are at different points in their fights against the virus, Americans throughout the country remain worried. Only 31% said the worst of the virus is behind them in relation to their own communities. Another 30% said the worst is happening now, while 38% said the worst is yet to come. 

The push to reopen has been largely driven by Trump and Republican governors, and the poll found that Republicans are far more supportive of opening businesses than Democrats. More than half (53%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support reopening retail stories, for example, while only 21% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents support the idea. 

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The reopen movement is in part driven by Trump’s belief that his only path to re-election is to restart the economy as soon as possible, even if that means greater public health consequences. On Monday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration, based on a model by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was predicting that the U.S. would reach about 200,000 new cases per day and 3,000 deaths per day by June 1.

Administration officials have since disavowed those projections—Trump called the Times report “fake news”—but even the current data is grim: More than 1.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 69,000 have died.

Certainly the economic fears driving the efforts to reopen are genuine, as more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment since mid-March, but public health experts and economists have repeatedly said that reopening too quickly could be catastrophic not just for the public health, but also the economy.

A March survey of more than 40 leading economists found that 80% of them agreed that “abandoning severe lockdowns at a time when the likelihood of a resurgence in infections remains high” would lead to more economic damage than extending the “lockdowns” to reduce the risk of a second surge.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has also repeatedly warned against reopening too quickly, telling CNN last week that these states are taking “really significant risks.” 

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“There’s no doubt in my mind that when you pull back mitigation, you’re going to start seeing cases crop up here and there,” he said. “If you’re not able to handle them, you’re going to see another peak, a spike, and then you almost have to turn the clock back to go back to mitigation.”

Fauci is viewed as a trusted messenger by huge majorities of Americans, as the poll found that 74% of Americans approve of Fauci’s response, including more than two-thirds of Republicans and independents, and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats. His approval rating may also be contributing to most Americans listening to his message and remaining cautious. 

While Republican governors have been more aggressive in reopening states, a handful of Democratic governors have joined them in recent days. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has lifted some restrictions on businesses, while California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that the state would begin to reopen in certain areas on Friday.

America’s governors earned positive ratings in the poll from bipartisan majorities, with 75% of Americans approving of their governor’s job performance. In contrast, only 44% approved of President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, an enormous gap that has been consistent in polls during the pandemic. Trump’s numbers are, as usual, driven by a partisan gap, as nearly 8 in 10 Republicans rate Trump positively, while only about 2 in 10 Democrats do. 

The poll was conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement and was based on interviews conducted with a random national sample of 1,005 adults between April 28 and May 3.