Exclusive Poll: Americans split on returning to work, restaurants, and gyms following pandemic shutdowns

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — As states reopen workplaces, many hesitate to return. And while most of the country has started reopening non-essential businesses, the majority of people surveyed in three states say they aren’t yet ready to return to restaurants and gyms, according to new polling from Nexstar Media Group and Emerson College. People in Texas, California, and Ohio indicated they aren’t quite ready to return to the places they frequented before the pandemic, even with social distancing and other precautions in place.

“We’re going to have trouble getting people back into their normal routines.”

Spencer Kimball, director of Emerson College Polling

Dining-in and working out

In California, 65% say they would not feel comfortable going to a restaurant with some spacing precautions. Similarly, 60% of surveyed Texans weren’t ready to dine-in.

In contrast, a majority of people in Ohio are more ready to return to restaurants. Of those surveyed, 51% say they are comfortable returning to restaurants with precautions.

The poll provides a sobering look at consumer confidence, and Kimball says recovery will vary by industry. “Some are going to bounce back a little faster, but others are going to take a while for the public to grow confidence.”

While they might be comfortable with in-person dining, Ohioans are not ready to return to gyms—even with social distancing precautions. Of those surveyed, 57% weren’t comfortable going to a fitness center. In Texas, that figure is even higher, at 68%. And in California, the number jumped to 75% of people surveyed.

It’s worth noting that a majority of people in all three states felt comfortable going to a beach or park with spacing precautions.

Reopening the job market

The Nexstar/Emerson poll also showed the impact the coronavirus has had on the job market. In California, one in three surveyed say someone in their household lost their job as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Texas, the figure was roughly one in four, and it decreased to one in five in Ohio.

And as California, Texas, and Ohio start to reopen, poll numbers in those three states show a split among workers when it comes to returning to work. When asked if those with jobs were comfortable returning to work, the top responses were that employees were willing to return to work under any circumstances and that workers were willing to return if their coworkers were wearing face masks.

“About half of them say I’m going to go back under any circumstances, the other half is saying well I’m only going to go back if everyone is wearing a facemask…or I’m not going back, because I’m scared of getting the virus and bringing it home,” says Kimball.

Kimball also sees corresponding unemployment numbers. “About a third of all households now report somebody has lost a job because of this pandemic,” he says.

Kimball says differences were most stark on questions like whether or not someone knows another person infected.

“In California, it’s a huge state, only about 16, 17%of people actually know somebody who has the virus,” Kimball says. “We get to Ohio, that number gets up to 30%”

The numbers also show people are more satisfied with their states’ response to the pandemic than they are with the federal government.

Politics and the pandemic

Nearly half of those surveyed in Texas and Ohio approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president. That was not the case in California, where 59% of those surveyed say they don’t approve of his work in the oval office.

When looking ahead to the presidential race in 2020, two things stand out: voters are split on who they plan to vote for and who they believe will win the race. One thing in common between the three states surveyed is that voters aren’t overly excited about Joe Biden as a candidate. Even in California, where those surveyed plan to vote for him over Trump, 52% of respondents say they’re not that excited or just mildly excited about supporting Biden. In both Texas and Ohio, the figure jumps to around 60%.

When looking at potential running mates, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris jumped out of the pack with the majority of support as a potential vice-presidential candidate. However, a number of people also think Biden will select someone not considered a front-runner in the race.

It may be no surprise that the economy is the main issue voters will look at when deciding their choice for president, according to the poll. The second driving force is someone who can beat Donald Trump, followed by health care.

And how would people prefer to vote for president in November? Those surveyed in all three states support voting by mail over voting in person, with California showing the most support for voting by mail at 76%.

Facing an array of unknowns from the coronavirus, California already has plans in motion to send every voter a mail-in ballot for the November presidential election. However, in-person voting places will remain available for those who might need them. But it wasn’t clear how many.

The Republican National Committee is warning that sending millions of ballots through the mail could lead to abuse and is considering legal options. Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla says the decision is good for public health and voting rights.

About the poll

The Nexstar Media/Emerson College polls were conducted in Texas and Ohio from May 8 through 10, and in California on May 8 and 9.

The sample for the Texas poll consisted of registered Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters (n=800) with a credibility interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE): +/- 3.4%.

The sample for the Ohio poll consisted of registered Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters (n=725), with a CI similar to a poll’s MOE of +/- 3.5%.

The sample for the California poll consisted of registered Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters (n=800) with a CI similar to a poll’s MOE of +/- 3.4%.

The data sets were weighted by gender, education, party affiliation, age, ethnicity, education, and region. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, party breakdown, ethnicity, and region carry higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using an interactive voice response system of landlines and an online panel.


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