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Polls show steady support for pandemic mitigation efforts

At least for now, the latest polling suggests the public wants policymakers to stay the course and not re-open society too quickly.
Image: Daily Life In New York City Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
A view down Lexington Avenue at 55th Street during the coronavirus pandemic in New York on April 14, 2020.Cindy Ord / Getty Images

About a month ago, when Donald Trump first started talking up the idea of re-opening society by Easter, it seemed the president was making a political calculation: that the American mainstream was feeling as impatient as he was.

Trump's assumption was wrong. Practically all of the independent polling from mid-March found broad public support for mitigation measures, including school closings and stay-at-home orders.

And while the data was encouraging at the time, I couldn't help but wonder whether attitudes would soon shift. At least for now, the latest polling suggests the public wants policymakers to stay the course. The Pew Research Center reported yesterday:

With substantial limits in place on public activity in most states to combat the coronavirus outbreak, 66% of Americans say they are more concerned that these restrictions will be lifted too quickly, while 32% say they are more concerned they won't be lifted quickly enough.

This comes on the heels of related online surveys -- from Politico/Morning Consult, Economist/YouGov, and Reuters/Ipsos -- each of which pointed in similar directions. As a USA Today report summarized, "Americans are picking health precautions over a rush back to work -- at least for now: If there is a legitimate political debate between health and wealth during the spread of coronavirus inside the United States, it's worth pointing out that health is winning by a landslide -- at least so far."

All of this strikes me as relevant for a few reasons. First, it's heartening to see so many Americans, during a time of crisis, supporting a responsible course. I don't imagine there are many who like the restrictions in place across much of the country, but the polling suggests there's a broad public understanding that these limits are necessary and shouldn't be abandoned prematurely.

Second, there have been some high-profile protests of late -- the president was careful yesterday not to criticize them, despite the public-health hazards they created -- but the survey data suggest these voices remain in the minority, at least for now.

And finally, public officials who may be weighing re-opening plans ought to recognize that the public seems to want them to be smart, not fast. Policymakers should act accordingly.