The insinuation is that elites in the “laptop class” can insist on maintaining restrictions, because their digitally-plugged-in livelihoods are largely undisturbed by those restrictions. They are blissfully out of touch with the suffering of working people chafing to get back to real-world jobs.
But new data from this week’s Post-University of Maryland poll shows that this narrative doesn’t capture the sentiments of the very people whose cause it purports to champion. The data suggests that there just aren’t meaningful divisions along class or education lines on these questions.
The new Post poll probes public attitudes toward restrictions and the coronavirus. I got a detailed breakdown of the numbers from the Post polling team, and here are some basic findings:
1. By 78 percent to 22 percent, Americans believe it is “necessary” for people in their communities to stay at home as much as possible.
The spread is very similar among those of incomes below $50,000 (82-18), those of incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 (77-23), and those of incomes over $100,000 (71-29).
It’s also much the same among rural voters (77-23) and non-college-educated whites (75-25), both demographics that tilt heavily towards supporting President Trump, and are supposed to thrill to the “populist” narratives that Hayes was criticizing.
2. Fifty-eight percent of Americans overall say current restrictions on businesses are “appropriate,” vs. only 21 percent who say they are “too restrictive.”
Here again, the spread is very similar among those of incomes below $50,000 (56-18), those of incomes of $50,000 to $100,00 (61-22), and those of incomes over $100,000 (60-25).
And again, it’s much the same among rural voters (64-20) and non-college whites (54-28).
3. What about wearing masks, which is supposed to be prompting the latest culture war? This war doesn’t really exist, either.
By 80 percent to 20 percent, Americans overall say it’s “necessary” for people in their communities to wear a mask when coming close to others.
And yet again, the spread is very similar among those of incomes below $50,000 (83-17), those of incomes of $50,000 to $100,00 (78-22), and those of incomes over $100,000 (74-25).
It’s also much the same among rural voters (73-27) and non-college whites (76-24).
David Frum argues that many Trump supporters may be reluctant to accept changes to their way of life — such as social distancing and mask-wearing — because it’s an implicit concession that Trump has failed to contain the virus, and admitting such a thing is unthinkable.
That may be true. Indeed, the biggest Trump booster in the country sees things this way. The president himself is reportedly reluctant to wear a mask in public because it sends a message that he’s overly preoccupied with the health crisis, and not with reopening the economy, which we know he sees as heralding his triumphant vanquishing of the disease.
But even if this is a real sentiment among the most vocal Trump supporters, it’s just not widely shared, and it’s not at all clear that it’s driving serious societal tensions, despite conservative media’s best efforts to imply otherwise.
As Frum notes, serious public health thinkers are raising the larger question of whether we are up to maintaining restrictions on ourselves as a “political-cultural challenge,” in the words of Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys. Might we end up accepting large numbers of preventable deaths instead?
I don’t know the answer to that, but if anything, it’s clear we’re seeing surprising unity and agreement — across lines that typically divide us politically — that we should shoulder serious inconveniences in the name of public health. One might even suggest large majorities are collectively engaged in a deeply civic act.
As I’ve noted, this crisis absolutely should force a transformation in how we view the plight of essential workers and other working people, one that continues to recognize their economic precarity and their centrality to our everyday well being — long after this is over.
Meanwhile, in the short term, hopefully those who profess populist worry about the impact of social distancing on working people will use their platforms to call for far more generous economic rescue packages.
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