We asked respondents when they thought the country should reopen the economy and resume business activity. Possible responses ranged from “immediately” to “after more than eight weeks.”
Citizens don’t think their states should reopen business yet
As you can see in the figure above, these governors’ constituents are in less of a hurry to reopen than are their governors. Across all three states, only 12 percent of respondents — or fewer — supported an immediate reopening. Sizable majorities in each state — between 57 and 60 percent — prefer to wait a month or more before reopening the economy. On average, residents in all three states preferred to wait four to six weeks.
Interestingly, despite our era of partisan polarization, Democrats and Republicans agree that it is too early to reopen — although Democrats, on average, prefer to wait a bit longer. In all three states, Democrats favor waiting about six weeks, while Republicans support waiting about four weeks.
Older Americans, women and African Americans want to wait longer
We find in all three states, communities that have been hit particularly hard by the virus — including African Americans and people age 65 or older — strongly supported reopening more slowly, although again, very few white respondents supported immediate reopening. Women, also — again across all three states — preferred to wait longer than men.
Citizens expect widespread infections
One reason Americans prefer to move more slowly than their leaders may be their expectations of widespread infections. In each of the three states, respondents estimated about 4 in 10 Americans, or about 131 million individuals, ultimately will be infected during the pandemic, a total approaching worst-case models by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Which leaders do they trust?
About 28 percent of respondents across the three states trust their state government “a lot.” However, both Democrats and Republicans trust experts far more: 47 percent for the CDC, 55 percent for scientists and researchers, and 68 percent for hospitals and doctors.
What do residents of these states think of their governors’ leadership? Overall, majorities of respondents in each state approve of their governor’s handling of the pandemic: 53 percent in Tennessee, 52 percent in Florida and 56 percent in Georgia. While these numbers look strong on their face, they are tepid compared with the numbers for many other governors. Across our surveys of all 50 states, on average, 65 percent of respondents approved of their governors’ handling of the crisis.
What we find here is that bad policy — at least, according to CDC guidelines — makes bad politics. Recent political science research suggests elected leaders are often surprisingly uninformed about what policies their constituents want. Our research suggests voters are listening to the experts. Governors may wish, in turn, to listen to their voters.
Matthew A. Baum is the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications and professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and Department of Government and author, most recently, of “War and Democratic Constraint: How the Public Influences Foreign Policy” (Princeton University Press, 2015).
Katherine Ognyanova is an assistant professor of communication at Rutgers University whose research is in network and computational social science.
David Lazer (@davidlazer) is University Distinguished Professor at Northeastern University, visiting scholar at the Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science and author, most recently, of “Politics with the People” (Cambridge University Press, 2018).