New Yahoo News/YouGov coronavirus poll: 59 percent of Americans say Trump's Easter timeline is 'too soon' to restart economy

·West Coast Correspondent

A large majority of Americans disagree with President Trump that the nation’s battle against the coronavirus is winding down and that normal economic activity should resume sooner rather than later, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and that divide appears to be eroding public trust in Trump’s leadership during the pandemic.

As the virus continues to spread exponentially — the U.S. now leads the world in cases, with more than 85,000 — the poll found that 59 percent of Americans think that Easter, which falls on April 12, is too soon to “open the country up for business,” even though the president has repeatedly said he hopes to do just that. Just 20 percent said Easter would be “about right.”

By the same token, only 21 percent of Americans think that “the cure” — in this case, the sort of shelter-in-place orders now in force in New York and California — is “worse than the disease.” A full 79 percent agree with public health experts who say that such restrictions are the “only way” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Asked how long they expected the coronavirus to be a serious problem for them and their communities, a plurality (38 percent) said more than three months, the longest timeline among the five options.

And 58 percent of Americans believed that ignoring the virus and returning to normal life would lead to “many deaths,” compared with 32 percent who predicted that only “a few” would die.

As a result, most Americans who say they have heard from Trump during the crisis believe he is doing only a fair or poor job on a variety of leadership metrics, including unifying the country (56 percent fair or poor); organizing the government’s response (53 percent fair or poor); communicating with the public (51 percent fair or poor); listening to scientists (54 percent fair or poor); relating to problems faced by average Americans (55 percent fair or poor); and taking bold actions (52 percent fair or poor).

Asked whether they approve or disapprove of the way Trump has handled the coronavirus overall, 49 percent said they disapproved and 43 percent said they approved. Sixty percent said the Trump administration was not adequately prepared to deal with the pandemic, versus only 25 percent who said the opposite — a net 14-point shift against the president since the last Yahoo News/YouGov poll two weeks ago. 

In contrast, 60 percent of Americans rated their state and local governments’ handling of the coronavirus as either excellent or good.

The survey wasn’t all bad news for Trump: His approval rating for handling the coronavirus ticked up 2 points over the past two weeks, and the share of Americans who are satisfied his administration is doing everything it can to stop the virus rose 3 points, from 37 percent to 40 percent. Other polls have found pluralities of Americans approving of Trump's coronavirus response, and his average job-approval rating has improved amid the crisis. 

The poll made it clear that the country has become much more worried about the coronavirus over the past two weeks. Back then, only 37 percent of Americans were paying “very close” attention to the virus; now that number is 50 percent. Previously, only 29 percent said there had been coronavirus cases in their community; now that number is 60 percent. The share of Americans who believe it’s either somewhat or very likely they will become infected rose 15 points, from 25 percent to 40 percent. Two weeks ago, a plurality of Americans (44 percent) said the threat of the coronavirus had been exaggerated; today, that number has fallen by half (to 22 percent), while a full 62 percent now say the threat is not exaggerated.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Getty Images
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Getty Images

Personal behavior has changed rapidly. Since March 12, the number of Americans who have stopped shaking hands has risen from 28 percent to 61 percent. The number who have stockpiled food or other supplies has risen from 15 percent to 31 percent. The number who have avoided crowded public places has risen from 37 percent to 70 percent. In addition, 57 percent of Americans have stopped eating at restaurants, 67 percent have stopped leaving the house except for essential needs and 63 percent are staying 6 feet away from other people in public places.

The economic impact of these upheavals has been widespread. Ten percent of respondents said they have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus, and 18 percent said their hours and income have been reduced. Fifteen percent said a family member had lost their job. Thirty-two percent said they’d lost money in the stock market or their retirement funds. Fifty-seven percent of Americans now say the economy is getting worse — up 20 points over the past two weeks.

The political impact of the crisis is unclear. Sixty-one percent of Americans said they had heard from Trump during the last week; only 48 percent said the same about likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Meanwhile, 61 percent of those who had heard from Biden rated his performance as either fair or poor. Even so, Biden led Trump by 6 points — 42 percent to 36 percent — on the question of who Americans would trust more to handle the coronavirus. (Biden led his Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, by an even wider margin, 45 percent to 31 percent. Among Democrats, Biden led Sanders 50 percent to 29 percent on the same question.) Asked who they would vote for in November, 46 percent of respondents said Biden and 40 percent said Trump.

Politically, the $2 trillion congressional aid package appears to be very popular. Americans favor its passage by a 74 percent to 7 percent margin, and all of its provisions — save for $500 billion in loans for corporations — polled well over 50 percent.

Still, it’s possible that the public hasn’t fully come to grips with the toll that the coronavirus may take on the country. Twenty-six percent of Americans still said they are not very worried or not worried at all about the pandemic. Twenty-two percent said most of their peers are overreacting. And 24 percent predicted that fewer than 1,000 people would die in the United States because of the virus — a threshold the U.S. crossed this week.

This Yahoo! News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,579 U.S. adult residents interviewed online between March 25-26, 2020. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. residents based upon their age, gender, race, education and voter registration. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as the 2016 presidential vote, registration status and news interest. The weights were trimmed to have a range of 0.1 to 5. The coefficient of variation of the final weights was 0.8.The margin of error (MOE) for estimates based on the full sample was 3.1 percent. The sample estimate should differ from its expected value by less than the margin of error in 95 percent of all samples. It does not reflect nonsampling errors, including potential selection bias in panel participation or in response to a particular survey.

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