WASHINGTON — Nearly 60 percent of American voters say they are more concerned that a relaxation of stay-at-home restrictions would lead to more COVID-19 deaths than they are that those restrictions will hurt the U.S. economy, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
But while strong majorities of Democrats and independents are more worried about the coronavirus than the economy, Republicans are divided on the question, with almost half of them more concerned about how the restrictions could affect the economy.
The poll also finds a significant change in attitudes about the coronavirus. The percentage of voters saying they’re worried a family member might catch it has increased by 20 points since last month’s survey.
And those saying the coronavirus has changed their family’s day-to-day life in a major way has jumped by more than 50 points from the March NBC News/WSJ poll.
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So much else has stayed steady in the midst of the pandemic — Trump's job rating remains unchanged in the mid-40s, a majority continues to disapprove of the president’s handling of the coronavirus, and Trump is still trailing apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the race for the White House.
“We have not seen a change at all [for Trump],” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart and his colleagues at Hart Research Associates.
But Hart cautions that a long-lasting crisis could change things for the president.
“In every crisis, we go through this coming-together phase. And then we come to the recrimination phase,” he said.
“President Trump faces some tough sledding ahead in the recrimination phase.”
The NBC News/WSJ poll was conducted between April 13-15 during a national debate over when to reopen the country amid the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 35,000 Americans.
On Thursday, Trump announced federal guidelines that essentially leave it up to the states to decide when to begin pullbacks from stay-at-home orders.
Then, on Friday, Trump tweeted at states with Democratic governors who have instituted stay-at-home orders.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” the president said.
In the poll, 58 percent of registered voters say that what worries them more is that the United States will move too quickly in loosening stay-at-home restrictions, resulting in the coronavirus spreading and more lives being lost.
That’s compared with 32 percent who are more concerned that the U.S. will take too long in loosening restrictions, which will harm the economy.
McInturff, the GOP pollster, says these numbers represent a “powerful signal” that the country isn’t ready for business as usual on May 1.
But there’s also a familiar partisan divide inside of these numbers: While 77 percent of Democratic respondents and 57 percent of independents are more worried about the coronavirus than the economy, Republicans are split — with 48 percent expressing more concern about the economy, and 39 percent more worried about the coronavirus.
Half of voters say they don’t trust Trump’s coronavirus statements
Also in the poll, 44 percent of voters say they approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, while 52 percent disapprove.
That’s essentially unchanged from March, when 45 percent gave the president a thumbs up here and 51 percent gave him a thumbs down.
Trump’s overall job rating stands at 46 percent who approve, 51 percent who disapprove, which is identical to his score in March and is consistent with his numbers over the past two years.
Only 36 percent of respondents in the poll say they generally trust what Trump has said when it comes to the coronavirus, while 52 percent say they don’t trust him.
By comparison, 69 percent say they trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 66 percent trust their own governor; 60 percent trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert; 46 percent trust New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; and 35 percent trust Vice President Mike Pence.
The numbers for Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, are 26 percent who trust, 29 percent who don’t trust, and 42 percent who aren’t aware of his coronavirus statements or who don’t have an opinion.
As for the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, 50 percent of voters say they’re satisfied with the measures intended to limit the disease’s spread, versus 48 percent who are dissatisfied.
But just 34 percent are satisfied with the federal government ensuring there are enough tests to limit its spread, and only 34 percent are satisfied with the amount of medical supplies.
“A sea change” in attitudes about the coronavirus
The NBC News/WSJ poll also shows how the past month has changed Americans’ attitudes about the coronavirus.
In March, 53 percent of voters said they were worried that someone in their immediate family would catch the disease. Now it’s 73 percent.
Also in March, a combined 26 percent said the coronavirus has changed their day-to-day life in a “very” or “fairly” major way. Now it’s 77 percent.
And in a CNBC poll conducted in early April by the same polling firms, 27 percent said they personally know someone infected by the coronavirus. Now, just more than a week later, it’s 40 percent.
“Socially and economically, we have seen a sea change in attitudes in just a month,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates.
Biden maintains lead over Trump in White House race
In the race for the White House, the NBC News/WSJ poll shows Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 7 points nationally among registered voters, 49 percent to 42 percent.
That’s down from Biden’s 9-point advantage last month, 52 percent to 43 percent, though the change is well within the poll’s margin of error.
Looking inside the overall numbers, Biden’s biggest advantages are with African-American voters (where he leads Trump, 85 percent to 7 percent), Latinos (60 percent to 26 percent), voters ages 18-34 (54 percent to 31 percent), women (56 percent to 35 percent) and whites with a college degree (55 percent to 37 percent).
Trump’s greatest strengths are with white voters (51 percent to 42 percent), men (50 percent to 41 percent) and whites without a college degree (60 percent to 33 percent).
Among independents, Biden is ahead of Trump by just 1 point, 43 percent to 42 percent.
And when the race is reduced to 11 swing states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Biden holds a combined 6-point lead over Trump, 49 percent to 43 percent.
Biden also leads Trump by 9 points on which candidate better handles a crisis (47 percent to 38 percent), and by another 9 points on who would better handle the coronavirus (45 percent to 36 percent).
But Trump leads Biden by 11 points on which candidate better handles the economy (47 percent to 36 percent).
Pessimism grows about the state of the economy
Yet voters are much more pessimistic about the state of the economy than they were a month ago.
In the new poll, a plurality of 45 percent describe the economy as being poor, which is up more than 20 points since March.
That’s the highest percentage of respondents calling the economy poor in the NBC News/WSJ poll since 2012.
Thirty-one percent rate the economy as being “only fair,” and a combined 22 percent say it’s either “excellent” or “good” — down 25 points from last month.
The NBC News/WSJ poll was conducted April 13-15 of 900 registered voters – more than half of whom who were reached by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.