Do Americans Care About The Latest COVID-19 Wave In The Northeast?

Katie R. Ochoa

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

A fresh wave of COVID-19 cases swept through the U.S. Capitol last week, affecting a number of officials at the highest levels of government just as President Biden’s administration urges for a return to normalcy.

But it’s not just Capitol Hill that’s seeing a fresh round of COVID-19 infections. The highly contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant has led to an uptick in new cases across the Northeast. The New York Times’s tracker shows that cases for New York City have risen by over 60 percent, with cases rising over 140 percent in Washington, D.C., over the same period. But according to recent polling, a majority of Americans are still ready to put the pandemic behind them. 

Per the latest Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index, the number of Americans partaking in activities outside of their homes is on the rise. As of April 8-11, 65 percent of respondents reported going out to eat recently, while another 66 percent said they’ve visited with friends or family. That’s a sharp uptick from January, the survey noted, when only 46 percent and 50 percent of Americans, respectively, said the same. 

What’s more, a dwindling number of people are in favor of taking precautionary measures to prevent the virus’s spread. The poll found that only 36 percent of respondents wanted businesses to require customers to prove that they’ve been vaccinated — down 15 percentage points from when the question was first asked in February. Part of these changing attitudes could be driven by the fact that Americans are increasingly likely to say that the worst of the pandemic is behind us: A separate Economist/YouGov poll found that, as of late March, only 11 percent of survey respondents believed the pandemic would get worse, compared to 31 percent who felt the same at the start of January. 

There’s still a lot we don’t know about this, but at this point Americans don’t seem to be worrying about it as much as they did the delta wave that rocked the nation last summer or last fall and winter’s omicron wave. In mid-September, as cases rose nationwide, a Morning Consult tracking survey found that one-third (33 percent) of adults saw COVID-19 as a “severe” health risk to their community. As of earlier this week, that number sat at just 15 percent.

Support for preventative measures like vaccine requirements, especially in the workplace, has decreased, too. According to a March poll from the Pew Research Center, only 29 percent of U.S. adults said employers should require their employees to get a vaccine. A majority of respondents (44 percent) said vaccines should be encouraged instead. Last July and August though, per Gallup, support for these measures was much higher, with 52 percent of U.S. adults saying they were in favor of employee vaccine requirements, versus 38 percent who said they were opposed.

In some ways, the fact that fewer Americans are concerned about contracting COVID-19 shouldn’t be too surprising. As FiveThirtyEight’s Jean Yi noted in February, Americans seem to be increasingly accepting of the fact that COVID-19 might be here for good. And while there’s still a lot we don’t know about BA.2, it’s also possible that this subvariant just won’t be as deadly as previous waves, and therefore, Americans are simply thinking about the virus differently.

Pandemic fatigue might be an additional factor. As the chart below illustrates, how Americans are thinking about COVID-19 hasn’t changed much from March to April according to the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index. In both months, 30 percent of respondents said they were in favor of getting back to “life as usual” with zero COVID-19 mandates or requirements in place. But that is pretty different from how respondents were looking at the virus just a few months earlier: At the start of February, less than a quarter of respondents (21 percent) said the same. American’s perceptions of mask mandates have also changed drastically since then. About two months ago, 21 percent of adults said in the same survey that we should increase mask mandates and vaccine precautions, versus a mere 6 percent who felt the same way in April.

Of course, despite polling that suggests Americans may be adopting more lax attitudes toward the pandemic, global health experts continue to warn that COVID-19 is far from gone. In fact, it’s possible that, in the coming weeks, the nation could see another surge in infections driven by BA.2. But whether that will change people’s attitudes toward COVID-19 precautions seems to remain an open question.

Other polling bites

  • Americans are feeling the economic fallout of higher gas prices, and changing their behavior in response. Half of Americans reported that the increased prices had caused some degree of financial hardship, according to an April 8-9 poll from ABC News/Ipsos. A Morning Consult poll from March 17-20 found that 31 percent of adults purchased less gas in March than they had in the previous month. When Morning Consult asked whether they had used other forms of transportation in a March 18-21 poll, 44 percent said they walked, 18 percent biked, 15 percent used public transport and 7 percent used an electric bike or scooter. That said, a plurality of Americans (47 percent) still told Morning Consult that they supported sanctioning Russian oil and natural gas exports, even if that led to higher prices, according to a poll conducted April 2-4.
  • The state of the economy is clearly top of mind for most Americans, as 76 percent said that the economy should be a high priority for the country to address in an April 5-8 poll from CBS News/YouGov. Seventy-three percent said the same about inflation, which far outweighs concern for the other issues asked about. Other high-priority issues included crime (59 percent) and the “situation” between Russia and Ukraine (58 percent), but all the other issues asked about, immigration, climate change and COVID-19, polled below 50 percent. But Americans aren’t feeling all bad on the economic front. They had a brighter outlook on job availability — 56 percent said their local job market was good, and 51 percent said that the number of jobs in the U.S. overall increased over the last year.
  • According to an April 5-8 YouGov poll, American adults are divided on the provisions in Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which some critics have termed “Don’t Say Gay,” because it would limit discussions of gender and sexual orientation in kindergarden through third grade classrooms. Forty-four percent said they supported banning public school teachers from providing instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade, while 41 percent opposed it. Meanwhile, 47 percent said they supported allowing parents to sue school districts if they believed classroom instruction on these topics was not age-appropriate according to state standards, while 38 percent opposed it.
  • When it comes to social media companies and users under 18, many Americans think more protections should be in place, according to two April 13 polls from YouGov. Sixty percent of respondents felt that social media companies shouldn’t be allowed to make content recommendations to underage users, and 72 percent didn’t want those companies collecting data on those users. Forty-seven percent even said in a third poll that people under 18 shouldn’t be able to create their own social media accounts at all.
  • There’s currently widespread support for a number of climate change policy proposals that would limit greenhouse gas emissions, according to a March 1-18 poll from Gallup. Large majorities back all six of the proposals asked about — 61 percent favor providing tax credits for those who buy electric vehicles, 62 percent favor establishing stricter limits on methane emissions when producing natural gas, 71 percent favor higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, 75 percent favor tax incentives for businesses that use renewable energy, and 89 percent favor providing tax credits for individuals who install at-home renewable energy systems like solar panels. Even the least popular proposal asked about, increasing federal funding for electric vehicle charging stations, had 59 percent of respondents in favor of it.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.7 points). At this time last week, 41.7 percent approved and 52.6 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -11.0 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 42.9 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.9 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.1 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Republicans currently lead by 2.2 percentage points (44.7 percent to 42.5 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 2.2 points (44.7 percent to 42.5 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 2.2 points (44.8 percent to 42.6 percent).

CORRECTION (April 15, 2022, 2:04 p.m.): An earlier version of this article put Democrats’ support at 42.9 percent, on average, in our generic congressional ballot tracker, but their support as of April 14 at 5 p.m. Eastern was 42.5 percent.

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