Virus Concerns Outpace Economic Worries

Asked to assess trade-offs between stemming the spread of coronavirus and helping the economy, more Americans prioritize keeping restrictions in place.

Published: July 24, 2020

As the coronavirus outbreak intensifies, the public’s attitudes toward the national economy and their own finances have remained fairly static over the past two months. However, uncertainty about the future has risen a bit and people who have experienced lay-offs are becoming less confident about getting their jobs back. Still, Americans overwhelmingly support restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, even at the expense of the economy.

Overall, 53% of Americans are dealing with some form of income loss because of the pandemic such as a layoff, or reduction in salary or hours worked. Specifically, 27% say they or someone in their household has been laid off because of the coronavirus outbreak. Growing numbers of these people do not think their jobs will be coming back.

There was a considerable decline in the public’s assessment of the U.S. economy when the coronavirus outbreak began. In June there was a slight uptick that appears to have leveled off. Although more than half of Americans report some type of income loss because of COVID-19, evaluations of personal finances have remained steady since March.  Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the national economy and, to a lesser degree, their own financial situation are in good shape.

Forty-one percent expect the economy to improve over the next year, 35% think it will deteriorate, and 23% say it will stay about the same. Regarding personal finances, 33% think things will get better, down from 38% in June. Sixteen percent expect a personal downturn and 51% think their finances will remain much the same.

Nonetheless, 72% of Americans want their community to prioritize restrictions to stem the spread of the virus even at the expense of the economy compared to 27% who prioritize reopening the economy. And those who consider the national economy to be in poor condition are even more inclined to put public health ahead of the economy. Republicans are divided, while Democrats are more likely to prioritize preventing the spread over the economy.  

The public remains closely split over President Trump’s handling of the economy, which is viewed more positively than other issues asked about in the survey.

The nationwide poll was conducted July 16-20, 2020 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,057 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.3 percentage points.

AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (July, 2020). “Virus Concerns Outpace Economic Worries.” [https://apnorc.org/projects/virus-concerns-outpace-economic-worries]

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