WASHINGTON – As states around the country begin reopening, a new survey suggests the majority of Americans are more worried about social distancing measures being loosened too quickly than are worried about the country not reopening quickly enough.
Nearly three out of four Americans — 71% — say they are more concerned by the government lifting social distancing restrictions too quickly, according to a survey from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project. That's more than double the 29% who say they are worried restrictions are not being lifted quickly enough.
Even as some experts and medical projections have warned that coronavirus cases could spike if the country reopens too quickly, about 50% of states have partially reopened or loosened social distancing restrictions that were put in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Other states have maintained stay-at-home orders and other restrictions with an eye on the still-growing number of cases nationally.
And few Americans believe it’s safe now for various social distancing restrictions to be scaled back, according to an analysis on Nationscape Insights, a project of Democracy Fund, UCLA, and USA TODAY, while the majority of Americans think it won't be safe for a combination of weeks or months.
"There's a tendency for people to focus on people who are very loud right now," said Robert Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group. "But there's ... a real patience that pervades most of American action."
The Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project is a large-scale study of the American electorate. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, the researchers aim to conduct 500,000 interviews about policies and the presidential candidates. This survey was conducted between April 23 and 29, with 6,708 Americans surveyed. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
Griffin said the data suggests that Americans will likely not engage in many activities, like going to restaurants, even if they reopen right now.
"You can reopen a lot of things, the bars and restaurants can come back, you can try to reopen schools and send kids back to them, you can try to have larger events occurring ... for more than 10 people, but this really doesn't mean that people are going to necessarily engage in them," Griffin said.
While there have been protests in several states over the social distancing restrictions, the majority of both Democrats (83%) and Republicans (60%) are more worried about social distancing measures being loosened too quickly.
Only 9% of Americans believe “it is safe now” for schools and universities to reopen. Sixteen percent believe it will be safe in several weeks, 42% believe it will be safe in several months and 22% believe it will be safe in six months or more.
Ten percent of Americans believe it’s safe right now to allow meetings or gatherings of more than 10 people, like sporting events, concerts, and conferences. Twenty-one percent believe it will be safe in several weeks, 36% believe it will be safe in several months and 23% believe it will be safe in six or more months.
And 10% believe it’s safe right now for businesses like theaters, bars and restaurants to reopen. But 26% believe it will be safe in several weeks, 35% believe it will be safe in several months, and 17% believe it will be safe in six or more months.
In addition, 14% of Americans believe it’s safe right now to end stay-at-home orders, which encourage people to stay at their residences and avoid socializing with others. Thirty-five percent believe it won't be safe to lift those orders for several weeks, 30% believe it won't be safe for several months and 12% believe it won't be safe to lift until six or more months.
Griffin noted that people who say it will be safe in a couple weeks or months like want "to be optimistic in the scenario."
"No one is having a good time with the many restrictions that are occurring in American life right now," Griffin said.
Protesters have taken to the streets in several states to call for an end of the stay at home orders, with many supporters wearing clothing or holding signs in support of President Donald Trump.
But even as the majority of Democrats and Republicans believe it is not safe yet to loosen restrictions, there is still some partisan divide.
The largest gap between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to specific activities is in regard to stay-at-home orders, with 24% of Republicans saying they are safe to end, compared with 6% of Democrats. But the majority — a combined 69% of Republicans and 84% of Democrats — do not believe it will be safe to end the orders for either several weeks, several months or six or more months.
The breakdown between Republicans and Democrats for the other activities include:17% of Republicans who believe it’s safe for businesses like theaters, bars and restaurants to reopen, compared with only 5% of Democrats. 16% of Republicans who believe it’s safe to allow gatherings of more than 10 people, compared with 5% of Democrats. 15% of Republicans who believe it’s safe for schools and universities to reopen, compared with 4% of Democrats.