Despite Mask Wars, Americans Support Aggressive Measures To Stop COVID-19, Poll Finds

Aug 4, 2020
Originally published on August 4, 2020 3:24 pm

With the national death toll from COVID-19 passing the grim 150,000 mark, an NPR/Ipsos poll finds broad support for a single, national strategy to address the pandemic and more aggressive measures to contain it.

Two-thirds of respondents said they believe the U.S. is handling the pandemic worse than other countries, and most want the federal government to take extensive action to slow the spread of the coronavirus, favoring a top-down approach to reopening schools and businesses.

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"We've come to a pretty dire place when it comes to both the death toll and the spread of coronavirus across the country," said Mallory Newall, a pollster with Ipsos. "Americans, as they grapple with the reality of just how grave the situation is, they're looking for sweeping, really broad, powerful action here."

While debates over masks and whether to reopen have dominated headlines, more than three-quarters of respondents support enacting state laws to require mask wearing in public at all times. And nearly 60% said they would support a nationwide order making it mandatory to shelter at home for two weeks.

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The findings come as federal public health officials warn of a new phase in the pandemic, with widespread infections across the country, and as the president openly feuds with those advisers. The poll was conducted July 30-31 and surveyed 1,115 adults from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.

"We're doing absolutely worse" compared with other countries, said Laura Braslow, a Republican in Quakertown, Pa., who took part in the survey.

"We have a leader, and I use the term loosely, who is not providing leadership to this country at all," added Braslow, who didn't vote for Trump in 2016 and doesn't plan to back him in November.

"I mean if I have to suck it up and wear a mask, he should be sucking it up and wearing a mask. He should be showing the American public that this is the right thing to do."

Even some conservatives who plan to vote for Trump say the federal government should do more.

"I think a national approach would be better," said Kevin Reno, a Republican voter in Irving, Texas. "I think it would be effective, and it may be at the point here before too long that we have to do that."

Other measures that enjoy broad backing include government funding to expand testing for the coronavirus and make it free of charge, making any future vaccine available to all Americans, and a push to produce more personal protective equipment.

Mask mandates gain broad backing

Trump has resisted many of those proposals and tweeted Monday that America has done "MUCH better than most other Countries" in easing the impact of the coronavirus.

But most people surveyed disagree.

"I think we're doing worse," said Sophie McClellan, a Democrat from Jacksonville, Fla.

"I don't think we have adequate testing because it can take up to two weeks to get results," McClellan told NPR. She also said it was time for all states to impose public health mandates requiring masks in public places.

Trump has declined to wear a mask in public, but Monday he sent a message to supporters saying people should try to wear masks when they are not able to socially distance from others. The NPR/Ipsos survey found that for most Americans — Democrats and Republicans — mask wearing is not controversial.

Two-thirds of those surveyed favor a single, national strategy for combating the virus's spread, and about 60% support a single, national strategy for when businesses and schools can reopen.

On the question of schools, 66% of Americans say they prefer remote, distance learning for children in their area in the fall, a view shared overwhelmingly by Democrats. Republicans are more divided, with nearly 60% agreeing with Trump that schools should reopen and kids should return to classrooms.

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When given a choice on returning to work, 69% said that, whenever possible, people should be allowed to work from home until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available. Thirty-one percent chose the option of people returning to offices and workplaces now, with safety precautions in place for employees.

Americans lean toward more relief, more aggressive measures

As Washington is deadlocked on aspects of a federal relief package, most people polled — roughly two-thirds — say the federal government should take on more debt to pass a bill that provides a payment for all Americans. A similar number want federal unemployment benefits extended.

"They're saying right now pass another stimulus bill, pass more unemployment benefits, do your part to get the economy going," said Ipsos' Newall, who noted a majority of Republicans also back another round of federal spending.

The poll also found:

  • 59% say workers should receive a stipend that would allow them to stay at home for two weeks as part of a national quarantine effort.
  • 55% support temporary travel bans between states as part of the effort to slow the virus's spread.

"It's clear from this poll Americans want to do everything in their power to limit the spread of the virus," Newall said. "That means sweeping federal government action."

With the presidential election three months away, the coronavirus looms large as 46% of respondents said the pandemic is a top concern. And when thinking about choosing a candidate, two-thirds said each candidate's plan for economic recovery is a very important factor, followed by their plans for the coronavirus and for uniting the country.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force said something on CNN on Sunday that seems to have upset President Trump. Here's what she said.

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DEBORAH BIRX: I want to be very clear. What we're seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas.

KING: The president tweeted afterward, quote, "pathetic." OK, so that's how he feels. How do Americans broadly feel about our response to the pandemic? NPR's Brian Mann has the findings of a new NPR and Ipsos poll. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: So, I mean, the storyline here has been - there is so much division in Washington over this pandemic, but the poll found a lot of common ground among Americans. What are we saying?

MANN: Well, really, across the political spectrum, people are saying things are bad - I mean, more than 155,000 Americans dead so far. And people think it's time to set the political feuding aside and go big on a national response. Mallory Newall is a pollster with Ipsos. This is the firm that worked with NPR on this.

MALLORY NEWALL: We've come to a pretty dire place when it comes to both the death toll and the spread of coronavirus across the country. And Americans, as they grapple with the reality and just how grave the situation is, I think they're looking for sweeping, really broad, powerful action here.

MANN: And, of course, this has political ramifications. When we asked about November's presidential election, upwards of 80% of Americans say they'll support the candidate with a national coronavirus plan, a strategy for rebuilding the economy. And, interestingly, 81% of people say they want someone who can unify the country.

KING: OK, so that's what Americans are looking forward to in November. In the lead up to that, what do people think the government can do now that might help?

MANN: Yeah, Americans across - again, across the political spectrum, now support measures like mask mandates, public health rules requiring face coverings in public. They want the federal government to finally improve coronavirus testing. One of the people we surveyed is Sophie McClellan. She's a Democrat who lives near Jacksonville, Fla.

SOPHIE MCCLELLAN: I don't think that we have adequate testing because it can take up to two weeks to get results. And, also, I think enough people are not following physician recommendations in terms of social distancing and wearing masks.

MANN: And, really, we found overwhelming majorities of Americans now support mask-wearing. It's just not controversial anymore. Seventy-five percent say they will back those state mandates.

KING: And yet President Trump has made really clear that he doesn't support mask requirements at all. He tweeted yesterday that the U.S. has done much better than most other countries dealing with COVID-19. Do Americans agree with him?

MANN: In a word, no. I mean, two-thirds of people we surveyed say America is doing worse than other countries. Forty-one percent said, we're doing much worse. I put this question to Laura Braslow. She's a Republican who lives in Quakertown, Pa.

LAURA BRASLOW: Absolutely worse. We have a leader - and I use the term loosely, in quotes - who is not providing leadership to this country at all. I mean, if I have to suck it up and wear a mask, he should be sucking it up and wearing a mask.

MANN: Now, Laura says she didn't vote for Trump in 2016, won't vote for him in November. But what's interesting is even Republicans we surveyed who do back President Trump want him to do a lot more to fight COVID-19. Here's Kevin Reno, who lives in Irving, Texas.

KEVIN RENO: I think a national approach would be better. I think it would be effective. And it may be at the point here, before too long, that we have to do that.

MANN: And, again, so far, the president has resisted this idea of a kind of national response. But we found two-thirds of Americans want a single countrywide strategy for coronavirus testing, for deciding when businesses and schools should reopen.

KING: You know, let me ask you what you found on schools because that is one of the biggest questions going right now. President Trump says he wants kids back in classrooms in the fall. Do the people you surveyed think that that is going to happen or that that can happen safely?

MANN: People are really nervous about this. Overall, 66% of Americans say they favor distance learning in the fall, keeping their kids home. Democrats overwhelmingly favor that; Republicans more mixed - 60% agree with Trump and think kids should go back to classrooms.

KING: And just real quick - the economy. What are we saying?

MANN: Yeah, people say they want Washington to get off the fence. They want them to spend big to help the economy and help people who are struggling, even if that means taking on more national debt.

KING: NPR's Brian Mann. Brian, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.