Poll: Public support for lockdowns in US wavers along party lines

Most Americans fear a second wave of coronavirus cases as US begins efforts to reopen and kick-start a stalled economy.

Michigan lockdown protests
A protester raises his fist during a rally against Michigan's coronavirus stay-at-home order at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

Strong concern about a second wave of coronavirus infections is reinforcing widespread opposition among Americans to reopening public places, a new poll finds, even as many state leaders step up efforts to return to life as it was before the pandemic.

Yet, support for public health restrictions imposed to control the virus’ spread is no longer overwhelming. It has been eroded over the past month by a widening partisan divide, with Democrats more cautious and Republicans less anxious as President Donald Trump urges states to “open up our country”, according to the new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll finds that 83 percent of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional infections, with 54 percent saying they are very or extremely concerned that such steps will result in a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.

About eight in 10 Americans said that it is essential to reopening for people to return to self-quarantine if they are exposed to the virus. Roughly six in 10 also said having widespread testing for the coronavirus in their area is essential to reestablishing public activities, along with requiring people to keep six feet apart in most places and to wear face masks when they are near others outside their homes.

Nearly as telling as the public’s appetite for rigorous precaution: close to half said it is essential that a vaccine be available before public life resumes. Another third said that it is important, although not essential.

Taken together, the findings suggest that, while some Americans were anxious to get back to business as usual, most did not see the country returning any time soon to what once was considered normal. Instead, Americans largely envisioned a protracted period of physical distancing, covered faces and intermittent quarantines ahead, perhaps until a vaccine is available.

The latest AP-NORC survey was conducted over this past weekend. It found that a solid majority of about six in 10 Americans were in favour of requiring people to stay in their homes except for essential errands, with about third of the country strongly behind that approach.

While still resolute, support for such measures to contain the coronavirus has slipped in the past month – 80 percent were in favour of stay-at-home orders in April. The new survey found that 69 percent now favour restricting gatherings to 10 people or fewer, down from 82 percent in April.

Those declines are largely driven by changes in attitudes among Republicans, as Trump and several GOP governors have aggressively pressed for and moved forward with reopening businesses and public places.

Just 45 percent of Republicans now said they favour stay-at-home orders, while about as many are opposed. A month ago, 70 percent of Republicans backed them. Among Democrats, 78 percent favour stay-at-home orders, down from 91 percent in April.

Only about a third of Republicans said they are very or extremely concerned about the possibility of additional infections if restrictions are lifted, compared with three-quarters of Democrats.

Source: AP