Most Americans Say State Governments Have Lifted COVID-19 Restrictions Too Quickly – More attribute the rise in coronavirus cases to new infections, not just more testing

Pew Research Center

As a growing number of states grapple with a rise in coronavirus cases, a sizable majority of U.S. adults (69%) say their greater concern is that state governments have been lifting restrictions on public activity too quickly. Fewer than half as many, just 30%, say their bigger concern is that states have been too slow to lift the restrictions.

These views are similar to attitudes in April and May, when the question asked whether the greater concern was whether state governments would lift coronavirus-related restrictions too quickly or not quickly enough. In May, 68% said their bigger concern was that state governments would ease restrictions too quickly.

With the U.S. economy reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say the more effective way to help the economy recover is by significantly reducing the number of infections, so that more people feel comfortable going to stores, restaurants, schools and other workplaces. Only about a quarter (26%) say the more effective path to recovery is to reopen businesses and schools even if there hasn’t been a significant decline in infections. (For more, see “Republicans, Democrats differ over factors K-12 schools should consider in deciding whether to reopen”)

The new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted July 27-Aug. 2 among 11,001 adults on the Center’s American Trends Panel, finds broadly negative assessments of the overall U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak – and increasingly critical evaluations of how Donald Trump, state and local government officials and public health officials have dealt with the crisis.

About six-in-ten Americans (62%) say the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak has been less effective when compared with other wealthy countries, while just 13% say its response has been more effective. A quarter say the U.S. has been about as effective as other wealthy countries.

Republicans and Democrats have divergent opinions about nearly all aspects of the coronavirus outbreak, and this includes views of the U.S. response compared with other affluent nations. Still, while more Republicans than Democrats offer positive assessments of the U.S. response, just 22% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the U.S. has been more effective than other wealthy countries; a larger share (34%) say it has been less effective, while 42% say it has been about as effective. Democrats and Democratic leaners overwhelmingly view the U.S. response to the coronavirus as less effective compared with other wealthy countries (87% say this).

Majority of Americans are critical of Trump’s response to COVID-19; nearly half say he is doing ‘poor’ jobTrump’s positive ratings for dealing with the coronavirus have fallen since the early weeks of the outbreak in March. Currently, 37% say he is doing an excellent or good job in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, while 63% say he is doing only a fair or poor job.

These views have changed only modestly since May, when 41% gave him positive ratings, but the share saying he is doing an excellent or good job with the coronavirus has declined 11 percentage points, from 48%, since late March. Nearly half of Americans (48%) currently rate Trump’s response to the outbreak as “poor,” up 16 points since March.

Positive views of the performance of public health officials also have declined significantly: 63% now say public health officials, such as those with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are doing an excellent or good job in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, down from 79% in March.

This shift has come almost entirely among Republicans; only about half of Republicans (53%) give CDC officials and other public health officials positive ratings for their response to the outbreak, 31 points lower than in late March (84%). About seven-in-ten Democrats (72%) say public health officials have done an excellent or good job in responding to the coronavirus, little changed since March (74%).

Positive evaluations of how state (from 70% to 56%) and local government officials (from 69% to 60%) are responding to the coronavirus outbreak have also declined since March. However, the public continues to express overwhelmingly positive views of the response of local hospital and medical centers (88% rate them as excellent or good), which are unchanged over the past few months.

Majority says COVID-19 cases have risen primarily because of more new infections, not just more testingThe survey finds that a majority of Americans (60%) say the primary reason that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is increasing is because there are more new infections, not just more testing for the disease. About four-in-ten (39%) say cases are rising primarily because more people are being tested than in previous months.

Democrats overwhelmingly attribute the rise in coronavirus cases primarily to more infections, not just more testing (80% say this). A smaller majority of Republicans (62%) say the primary reason is because more people are being tested.

While most Americans express concern that states have been too quick to lift COVID-19 restrictions, three-quarters say a major reason the coronavirus outbreak has continued is that too few people are abiding by guidelines about social distancing and mask-wearing. A smaller majority (58%) says that lifting restrictions too quickly in some places is a major reason for the continued outbreak.

About half of Americans (53%) say an inadequate response by the federal government is a major reason the outbreak has continued, while nearly as many (49%) cite a lack of timely testing. Smaller shares point to unclear instructions about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (40%) and that it is not possible to do much to control its spread (28%) as major reasons.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say most of these factors are major reasons the outbreak has continued. The widest partisan differences are on whether the federal government response is inadequate – 82% of Democrats view this as a major reason the outbreak has continued, compared with 21% of Republicans – and lifting COVID-19 restrictions too quickly (82% of Democrats, 31% of Republicans).

Public divided over which level of government is primarily responsible for policies to limit the spread of COVID-19Republicans and Democrats also have very different attitudes on a fundamental issue related to the nation’s efforts to address the coronavirus outbreak: whether the federal government or state and local governments are primarily responsible for developing and executing policies to limit the spread of the disease.

The public overall is almost evenly divided: 51% say this responsibility rests mostly with states, while 48% say the federal government should be primarily responsible. Partisans express contrasting views: While 68% of Republicans say state and local governments should be primarily responsible for developing and implementing policies to limit the spread of the coronavirus, 64% of Democrats say the federal government bears most of the responsibility.

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  • Pew Research Center