The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans widely oppose reopening most businesses, despite easing of restrictions in some states, Post-U. Md. poll finds

Protesters outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston demand an end to the statewide stay-at-home order and other restrictions on May 4. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

Americans clearly oppose the reopening of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses, even as governors begin to lift restrictions that have kept the economy locked down in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

The opposition expressed by sizable majorities of Americans reflects other cautions and concerns revealed in the survey, including continuing fears among most people that they could become infected by the coronavirus, as well as a belief that the worst of the medical crisis is not yet over.

About half of states have eased restrictions on businesses, but Americans’ unease about patronizing them represents a major hurdle to restarting the economy. Many Americans have been making trips to grocery stores and 56 percent say they are comfortable doing so. But 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78 percent would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. People in states with looser restrictions report similar levels of discomfort as those in states with stricter rules.

Read full Post-U. Md. national poll results

Americans continue to give President Trump negative marks for his response to the outbreak, while offering widely positive assessments of their state governors, a trend that has been consistent throughout the pandemic.

Trump’s ratings are 44 percent positive and 56 percent negative, in line with where he was two weeks ago and only slightly worse than a week ago. Governors earn positive marks from 75 percent of Americans, about the same as a week ago. Partisan differences remain sizable, with nearly 8 in 10 Republicans but just about 2 in 10 Democrats rating Trump positively. In contrast, governors earn big positive majorities across the parties.

Americans also overwhelmingly approve of the way federal public health scientists, including Anthony S. Fauci, have dealt with the challenges from the coronavirus. Fauci’s positive rating stands at 74 percent. He maintains wide bipartisan appeal, winning positive marks from more than two-thirds of Republicans and independents, and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats. Public health scientists in the federal government overall are rated 71 percent positive.

As some states began to reopen in late April, New York doctors who saw a decline in coronavirus patients said lifting social distancing could reverse progress. (Video: The Washington Post)

In announcing plans to ease the restrictions on businesses, governors have emphasized that their actions represent a gradual and cautious reopening of their economies. Nonetheless, when asked about eight different types of businesses, majorities of Americans say they oppose ending the restrictions on each of the eight.

The Post-U. Md. poll asked about the following types of businesses: gun stores, dine-in restaurants, nail salons, barbershops and hair salons, retail establishments such as clothing stores, along with gyms, golf courses and movie theaters.

The most significant opposition is to reopening movie theaters, with 82 percent of Americans saying they should not be allowed to open up in their state. There is also broad opposition to reopening gyms (78 percent opposed), dine-in restaurants and nail salons (both with 74 percent opposed).

Gun stores are next, with 70 percent saying they should not be reopened, followed by barbershops and hair salons (69 percent opposed) and retail shops such as clothing stores (66 percent opposed) and golf courses (59 percent opposed).

Opposition to opening businesses is just about as high in the states that have loosened restrictions so far as states with stricter restrictions. In both sets of states, majorities of residents oppose reopening all eight types of businesses measured in the poll.

The push to reopen has been driven by Trump and largely by Republican governors, and the poll shows Republicans are far more supportive of opening businesses than Democrats. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly oppose opening all types of businesses tested, while Republicans and Republican-leaning independents range from mostly in favor of opening (61 percent for golf courses) to mostly opposed (59 percent for dine-in restaurants).

As with support for opening businesses, the poll finds partisan differences in how comfortable people are going to stores and restaurants. Majorities of Republicans and independents say they are comfortable going to a grocery store, but a majority of Democrats say they are not. Just 10 percent of Democrats say they would be comfortable eating out at a restaurant, compared with 22 percent of independents and 36 percent of Republicans.

No matter the party, personal worry heavily shapes attitudes on reopening. Among the majority who are at least somewhat worried about becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus, roughly 8 in 10 oppose opening barber shops and retail stores in their state. Among those who are less worried, smaller majorities say both types of business should be open.

The gender gap is especially notable on the reopening of most of the businesses listed, with men more supportive than women in most cases. Fifty-six percent of men oppose allowing gun shops to open, a view held by 82 percent of women. For restaurants and nail salons, only about a fifth of women say they should be open, compared with about one-third of men. About a quarter of women say retail shops, barber shops and hair salons should be opened, compared with 4 in 10 men.

Fear of infection, the poll finds, has not abated at all in recent weeks. In the survey, 63 percent of Americans say they are either very or somewhat worried about getting the virus and becoming seriously ill, with 36 percent saying they are either not too worried or not at all worried. In a Post-U. Md. poll two weeks ago, 57 percent said they were worried about becoming seriously ill from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 42 percent said they were not worried.

States are at different points in the cycle of the virus, with some appearing to be past the peak and others still experiencing growth in the pace of infections. Asked their impressions of where their own communities stand in relation to the curves, 31 percent say the worst is behind them. Another 30 percent say the worst is happening now, while 38 percent say the worst is yet to come.

Republicans and those who are not worried about becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus are more likely than others to say the worst is behind their communities. Differences among age groups are particularly striking, with less than a quarter of 18- to 39-year-olds saying that the worst is behind their communities, compared with 40 percent of those 65 and older.

The poll was conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement. Interviews were conducted April 28 to May 3 among a random national sample of 1,005 adults, 70 percent of whom were reached on cellphones and 30 percent on landlines. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The error margin is five points for results on which businesses should be open or closed, as they are based on a random half-sample of respondents.

Scott Clement and Alauna Safarpour contributed to this report.