Despite widespread economic toll, most Americans still favor controlling outbreak over restarting economy, Post-ABC poll finds

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Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the coronavirus outbreak has exacted a severe economic toll on their communities, but a majority of a divided country still says controlling the virus’s spread is more important than trying to restart the economy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The nationwide survey finds that despite the shared disruption of their daily lives since stay-at-home orders began, partisans differ sharply on how the country should move forward.

In the starkest split, 57 percent of Americans overall and 81 percent of Democrats say trying to control the spread of the coronavirus is most important right now, even if it hurts the economy. A far smaller 27 percent of Republicans agree, while 66 percent of them say restarting the economy is more important, even if it hurts efforts to control the virus. Nearly 6 in 10 independents say their priority is trying to control the virus’s spread.

There are sizable gender and racial gaps on this issue, too. Women, by more than 2 to 1, say controlling the spread of the virus should be the higher priority, while men are evenly split. Additionally, black Americans, who have suffered disproportionately from the virus, overwhelmingly favor controlling its spread, with about 3 in 4 citing this as their priority.

Americans are nearly as divided along partisan lines when asked whether they are willing to go to stores, restaurants and other public places “the way you did before the coronavirus outbreak.” Two-thirds of Republicans say they are willing to resume such activities, compared with 4 in 10 independents and fewer than 2 in 10 Democrats. Overall, 58 percent of Americans say it is “too early” to go to stores, restaurants and other public places the way they did before.

Overall, 42 percent say they personally know someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, a sharp increase from 11 percent who said this in late March.

Despite declines in the rate of new infections in some parts of the country, personal fears persist, with 63 percent of Americans overall continuing to worry that they or a family member will catch the coronavirus. That is not far below the 69 percent who two months ago said they were worried.

More broadly, nearly 7 in 10 say they are worried about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections in the fall, a specter that Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has warned could coincide with the start of flu season. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to say they are worried about a second wave of infections, 88 percent versus 44 percent.

Those personal fears — along with stark partisan divides — also shape opinions on reopening and resuming daily routines. Among those who are worried about themselves or a family member catching the coronavirus, 75 percent say it is “too early” for them to go to stores, restaurants and other public places like they did before the outbreak. Among those who are less worried, 70 percent are willing to return to their normal routines.

Americans say the outbreak has caused extraordinary upheaval in their own lives and communities, with nearly 8 in 10 saying their lives have been disrupted, including more than 7 in 10 each of Democrats, Republicans and independents. About half of all adults say the outbreak has disrupted their lives “a lot,” peaking at three-quarters among those who have been laid off or furloughed since the coronavirus outbreak started.

Asked about their community’s economy, 59 percent say the economic impact has been “severe” or “very severe,” while 32 percent say it has been moderate and 6 percent report a lesser impact. There is little partisan divide on this question, with 63 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents saying the outbreak has taken a severe toll in their area.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted after most states had begun to ease stay-at-home orders and partially lift restrictions on public gatherings and businesses, allowing many retail stores and restaurants to reopen, but usually at a limited capacity and with social distancing rules in place. Governors have been the decision-makers on reopening, as states charted their own paths in deciding how and when to ease restrictions that they put in place this spring.

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