Two-thirds of Americans do not expect their daily lives to return to normal for at least six months, and as states reopen, three-quarters are concerned that a second wave of coronavirus cases will emerge, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.
"There's a great sense that normalcy is not around the corner," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll.
He pointed out that with states reopening — some outside federal guidelines for doing so — there's "a real disconnect between public opinion and public policy."
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Americans have also grown more wary of voting in person. Half of them now say they would vote by mail if it's allowed by their state, according to the poll. About a quarter of Americans voted by mail in the 2016 general election, Miringoff noted.
On Wednesday, Trump took aim at Michigan and Nevada for taking steps toward increasing voting by mail in this year's elections. The president accused them of potentially trying to engage in voter fraud, falsely claiming that ballot applications were sent illegally. (Trump deleted an earlier tweet that accused Michigan of sending actual absentee ballots.)
He also threatened to put a hold on coronavirus relief funds to both states. It's not clear if the president has the authority to stop those funds; states run elections, not the federal government.
Clearly, how to respond to the coronavirus crisis has become political. Wide political splits have emerged even in regards to when people expect life to return to normal, how worried they are about a new outbreak and whether to vote by mail.
When will we return to normal?
While a majority of Republicans (55%) agree that they don't expect life to return to normal for at least six months and 57% are concerned about a second coronavirus wave, they are more optimistic that life will return to normal sooner and less worried about a second outbreak than Democrats and independents are.
Overall, 65% of Americans polled said they don't expect life to return to normal for at least six months, including 78% of Democrats and 68% of independents.
The most pessimistic about when life will return to normal — not for at least six months — were Democrats; African Americans (75%); college graduates (70%); white women with a college degree (70%); and Gen Xers, those 39 to 54 years old (70%).
The most likely to say less than six months were Republicans and Latinos (both 42%).
Wide concerns about a second outbreak
As for being concerned about a second outbreak, 77% of Americans polled said they are concerned or very concerned about one, including 93% of Democrats and 76% of independents.
"The overwhelming majority feel we're in no way out of the woods," Miringoff said. "The notion that there's the potential or likelihood of a second wave is strong, and we see that clearly across party lines."
The most concerned were Democrats, African Americans (86%), women (83%) and Latinos (81%), even though Latinos were more optimistic than Democrats or African Americans about when life would get back to normal.
Less likely to be concerned were Republicans (57%); white men without a college degree (68%); those in the Silent or Greatest generations, over age 73 (69%); those who live in rural areas (69%); and men generally (70%).
Big vote-by-mail splits. Who won't be voting?
And there's a divide on voting by mail: A majority of Republicans (56%) would rather cast their ballots in person than by mail (42%), whereas 61% of Democrats and 53% of independents prefer voting by mail this November.
The most likely to want to vote by mail were white women with a college degree (64%), whites with a college degree (62%), those who live in the West (62%) and Democrats (61%). Western states have been voting by mail for many election cycles.
Among those most likely to say they want to vote in person are Republicans (56%), those in the South (45%), white women without a college degree (44%), those 45 and older (44%), whites (42%) and people without a college degree (40%).
Some 10% say they do not intend to vote, which the pollsters indicate is about what would be expected, but the groups with the highest percentages of members who say they won't vote cut across key pillars in both parties: Gen Z and millennials, ages 18 to 38 (19%); Latinos (16%); suburban men (13%); those without a college degree (13%); white men without a degree (12%); and African Americans (11%).
The survey of 1,007 adults was conducted by The Marist Poll via landline and cell phone from May 12 to 17. Data collection and weighting was provided by SSRS. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It's been more than two months since large parts of the country began staying at home to avoid the coronavirus, and Americans are getting antsy. Now two-thirds of states are reopening businesses. But a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds that most are concerned about a second outbreak, and they don't expect life to return to normal for at least six months. To dive into the findings, NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is here.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there. Thanks for having me.
KELLY: So this question that I wake up with every morning - when can we get back to normal? - sounds like this is on a lot of other people's minds. What do they say they think will happen?
MONTANARO: Yeah, it sure is. Two-thirds of Americans, though, say that they don't expect their daily lives to get back to a normal routine for at least six months. There's a pretty big partisan divide on this, though. Democrats and independents are far more likely to say that they think it'll take that long or longer. Republicans have a little rosier view and are less likely to think it'll be that long. Maybe it's not surprising, given President Trump urging states to reopen, some even outside his own federal guidelines. And we've seen conservative protests in state Capitols wanting businesses back open.
KELLY: Yeah. Let me circle you back to this fear of a second outbreak. That is something we have heard a lot of state leaders highlight in terms of why they're being cautious about reopening. How worried are the people you talked to about it?
MONTANARO: Well, Americans across party lines are very concerned about the real possibility of a second outbreak, especially considering there's no vaccine yet, no proven treatment. Again, we're seeing pretty big partisan divides. Ninety-three percent - 93% of Democrats say that they're concerned or very concerned about this happening - a second outbreak. But just 57% of Republicans are. The most concerned were Democrats, African Americans, women and Latinos. Less likely to say that they were concerned were Republicans, white men without a college degree, those in the silent or greatest generation and those who live in rural areas. And by the way, those two groups sound a whole lot like the bases of both parties.
KELLY: Meanwhile, we are now inside of six months from the election - the presidential election. What did our poll find in terms of how people are thinking not necessarily about how the coronavirus will affect who they vote for, but the way in which they want to cast their vote?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, vote-by-mail's getting a lot of attention. And you have more people now saying that they want to vote by mail instead of in person. Fifty percent said that they want to vote by mail if their state allows it. Only 38% said that they want to vote in person. Realize that a quarter of voters in 2016 voted by mail, so this is double. Now, again, we have a partisan divide. Majorities of Democrats and independents say they'd prefer to vote by mail if they can. But a majority of Republicans say that they want to vote in person.
We can expect that there will be more states that look into expanding vote-by-mail because of the pandemic. And we've seen some of that today - you know, President Trump going after Michigan and Nevada, places that are looking to expand vote-by-mail. He was attacking them because of absentee ballot applications that went out in Michigan today and, you know, going after Nevada, where they have a Republican secretary of state. And they have primaries coming up that are going to be all-mail. And this is raising a lot of concerns about what could be the legitimacy of the election in November.
KELLY: Indeed. NPR senior editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.
MONTANARO: Thank you.
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