POLL: Virginians Concerned About Impact of COVID-19; See “Normal” as Months or Longer Away

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Governmental responses to the virus

In general, Virginians think the response from state government has been appropriate but are split with regard to how the federal government has responded to the virus. Nearly two-thirds (62%) think the state’s response was appropriate, with 17 percent saying it went too far and 18 percent saying it did not go far enough. A plurality (46%) think the federal response did not go far enough, 43 percent said it was appropriate, and only 8 percent said it went too far, according to the Roanoke College Poll. The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research interviewed 603 Virginia residents between May 3 and May 17 and has a margin of error of +4 percent.

Respondents are concerned that both governments will move too fast in reopening (60% for federal government; 48% for state government) at the expense of citizen health. About one-third (30% federal, 34% state) are more concerned that governments will reopen too slowly at the cost of additional economic damage.

Virginians are split regarding how the federal government should handle the nation’s response to the virus with 47 percent preferring a national strategy and 46 percent wanting a regional or state strategy. At the state level, they clearly prefer a statewide strategy (60%) to a regional or county response (35%). A plurality of respondents is more concerned that the federal government will spend too little money to boost the economy (46%), while 40 percent are concerned that the government will spend too much money. A clear majority (69%) would not give the government permission to track their movements to help track the coronavirus.

COVID-19—fears and expectations

Almost one-third of Virginia residents (31%) know someone who has contracted the novel coronavirus. Among those who know someone, five respondents (3%) had the virus themselves. For one in four (25%) it was a family member, and almost half (48%) know a co-worker who had the virus. Among those who do not know someone who has contracted the virus, two-thirds (67%) are very or somewhat concerned that they or someone in their household will contract the virus.

If the respondent were to become infected, almost half (49%) think they would be slightly ill, while 14 percent think they would be very ill, and another 14 percent think they would be extremely sick and perhaps die. Only 10 percent think they would show no symptoms. Of the five who had the virus, four said they were very ill and one reported being only slightly ill. Most Virginians (62%) are more concerned that a family member will become seriously ill due to the virus than that they will be hurt financially by the restrictions due to the virus.

Regarding when the virus may be contained sufficiently for a return to “normal,” a plurality of respondents (36%) think that will take a few more months, 28 percent think that will happen in the next year, and 18 percent think it will take more than a year. Fewer thought it would only take a few weeks (6%), while some (4%) thought we were already there, and 3 percent think things can never return to normal.

Regarding what is seen as necessary precautions for making Virginians feel comfortable  returning to normal, a majority cited frequent cleaning (85%), social distancing (66%), and regular testing (55%), while fewer felt that a face mask requirement (49%), a lower rate of infection (40%), zero new infections (33%) or temperature checks (32%) were necessary.

Almost half (49%) of respondents think the news media coverage has made things seem worse than they really are. Less than one-third (8%) think the coverage has been accurate, while 10 percent think the media have made the situation appear better than it is.

Economic implications of COVID-19

After reaching near-record highs in February, consumer sentiment fell to its lowest level since May 2013 this quarter, primarily driven by concerns about the economy. The labor market is currently in chaos, with initial unemployment claims in April averaging over 100,000 per week in the Commonwealth. Job losses are primarily centered in the services industry. Twenty-one percent of respondents report that they or someone in their household has been laid off due to the pandemic while 43 percent report losing income due to fewer hours at work. Eighteen percent say that they are struggling to pay their bills since the outbreak.

Businesses are changing their production processes, if possible, to fight the coronavirus recession. A plurality (34%) of respondents report working from home for the first time and almost half (49%) say that someone in their household is now working from home. Efficiency gains are possible for some business sectors when employees work from home, although less than a third (31%) of respondents who are working from home say that they would like to continue to do so. Fifty-seven percent say that they would prefer to return to the workplace while 12 percent say that they are partial to a combination of home and the workplace.

Political Polarization and the virus

Like most important issues today, COVID-19 is viewed through a partisan lens. Democrats are more concerned about contracting the virus, think they will become more ill if they catch the virus, and are more likely to think that government is not doing enough to fight the virus, and the state and nation will reopen too soon. (See table at conclusion of topline for partisan breakdown of some questions.)

Analysis

“It is clear that Virginians have a high level of concern with the novel coronavirus,” said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Roanoke College Poll. “‘Normal’ is viewed in the future tense, and more respondents are concerned that the state and nation will ‘open’ too soon rather than too late. A majority think the state’s response to the virus has been appropriate, but they are split regarding the federal response. It is not clear if that is a mixed assessment of the federal response or a mixed response to the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, which shapes the response to most questions and issues today.”

“The labor market is in a COVID-related crisis, but unlike typical recessions we entered this one with strong economic fundamentals” said Dr. Alice Kassens, professor of economics and senior analyst at the Roanoke College Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. “Demand for goods and services are down and people are incentivized and advised to stay at home. Businesses are adapting by moving employees home, if possible, and cutting hours and jobs. As the country continues to open up, assuming there is no second wave, the economy should recover relatively quickly. Rather than taking a decade to return to pre-recession levels, GDP should recover within 2-3 years and unemployment should fall to 4-5% within four years because of the underlying strength of the economy.”

Methodology

Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between May 3 and May 16, 2020. A total of 603 Virginia residents were interviewed. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.

A copy of the questionnaire and topline may be found here.