Americans support state restrictions on businesses and halt to immigration during outbreak, Post-Maryland poll finds

President Donald Trump listens during a coronavirus briefing at the White House on April 24. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

WASHINGTON — Americans overwhelmingly support state-imposed restrictions on businesses and the size of public gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They also back a temporary halt to immigration into the country, as ordered by President Donald Trump, to deal with the crisis, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

The poll finds that Americans’ concerns about becoming seriously ill from the virus have not eased in the past week and also shows that Americans continue to give their governors significantly higher ratings than they offer Trump, who still draws mostly negative reviews for how he has handled the crisis.

Some governors have begun to relax shelter-at-home orders and allow certain businesses to reopen in an effort to limit the economic damage in their states, despite concerns from some scientists and local officials that those actions might cause a resurgence of the virus. But as these measures begin to take effect, support for tough limitations now in place continues to enjoy bipartisan support.

Nearly 2 in 3 Americans say the restrictions on restaurants, stores and other businesses in their states are appropriate, with another 16% saying they are not tight enough. Just under 2 in 10, or 17%, call the limits on business activity too restrictive.

About 7 in 10 (72%) Democrats and 6 in 10 (62%) Republicans say their state’s current restrictions on businesses are appropriate. Republicans are more likely to say their state is too restrictive on businesses, though fewer than 3 in 10 say this (27%), compared with 17% of independents and 8% of Democrats.

Even in the dozen states that have begun to loosen restrictions or that had less restrictive orders in place, a majority of residents support their state’s limitations, with 59% calling them appropriate, 18% saying they are too restrictive and 22% calling them not restrictive enough – the last figure being eight points higher than in the states with more stringent orders in place.

Support for limitations on the size of public gatherings, which many states set at no more than 10 people, is just as strong. The poll finds 64% calling those limits appropriate and another 22% saying they are not restrictive enough. A smaller 14% describe them as too restrictive.

These findings suggest that even as states begin to reopen their economies on a gradual basis, many citizens could be cautious about resuming activity at the level that existed before the pandemic took hold and people were ordered or asked to stay at home as much as possible.

Support for a temporary halt to nearly all immigration is another sign of public wariness as the country tries to quell the spread of the virus. In the past, support for legal immigration has been consistently strong, with majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents all calling immigration, on balance, good for the country in Gallup polls.

Last week, the president indicated that he planned to halt the influx of immigrants, although the order he signed fell short of that kind of blanket ban. Still, he was met with criticism from immigration advocates. Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, attacked Trump’s initial call for a ban on almost all immigration as a distraction from the president’s oft-criticized handling of the pandemic.

The Post-U. Md. poll finds that 65% of Americans support a temporary halt on nearly all immigration during the coronavirus outbreak, with 34% opposed. Republicans overwhelmingly support the idea, with 83% in favor. Democrats, meanwhile, are split, with 49% supporting and 49% opposing. Among independents, 67% say they support such a move. (The poll began after Trump announced a general suspension of immigration to the United States on April 20 that he said would temporarily suspend nearly all immigration, but before details of the policy were announced two days later.)

The poll finds broad support for temporarily blocking immigration, including by at least 6 in 10 whites and nonwhites, men and women, and older and younger adults.

“One of the most surprising results is that majorities of 18- to 29-year-olds, who tend to be more open to immigration and have a more global perspective, support the proposal to block immigration,” said Michael Hanmer, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland who co-directed the survey. “One way for people to deal with the reality that so many scientific and policy questions have yet to be answered is to look to concrete solutions.”

Although the discussion nationally and in many states has shifted to the topic of how and when to start to ease restrictions, Americans remain worried about the possibility that they will become infected with the virus.

Six in 10 say they are either very or somewhat worried about becoming infected and seriously ill from the coronavirus, essentially unchanged from 57% in a Post-U. Md. poll taken a week earlier.

There are partisan divisions, with 70% of Democrats, 62% of independents and 45% of Republicans citing their worries. Still, about 4 in 10 or more Americans in every demographic or partisan grouping express fears about getting seriously ill from the virus.

Views about personal vulnerability to the virus are tied to attitudes about current restrictions on businesses and public gatherings. Among those who are very or somewhat worried about becoming seriously ill, 73% say their state’s business restrictions are appropriate, compared with 56% among those who are not as worried about becoming ill.

Both Republicans and Democrats who are more personally concerned about becoming ill also are significantly more likely to say the restrictions on businesses are appropriate.

The public continues to have a somewhat negative view of Trump’s handling of the crisis, with 52% saying that the way he’s dealt with it is either “not so good” or “poor,” and 47% saying that the job he has done is “excellent” or “good.”

The president’s ratings are similar, though less clearly negative, than in the Post-U. Md. poll last week – 54% rated him negatively then, and slightly more rate him positively now, although the change is not statistically significant. This week’s survey was taken Tuesday through Sunday, overlapping Trump’s suggestion on Thursday that it would be worth exploring whether injecting disinfectant into people’s bodies could combat the virus. That remark prompted makers of disinfectants and public health units to warn people against doing so.

Partisan differences are especially sharp in the ratings of the president, with 9 in 10 Republicans saying he’s doing a good or excellent job compared with less than 2 in 10 Democrats. Independents rate him 54% negative and 45% positive. Among all registered voters, his ratings are 54% negative and 45% positive.

There remains a significant gender gap in the perceptions of Trump’s handling of the crisis. Men rate Trump positively by eight points, while women rate him negatively by a 17-point margin.

Governors, meanwhile, continue to draw much stronger support for their handling of the crisis than Trump. The new poll finds that 77% of Americans rate their governor as either good or excellent in the way they have responded to the pandemic. The ratings for governors are slightly higher today than they were a week ago, when 72% gave them positive marks.

In contrast to ratings of the president, governors enjoy support across the partisan divide, with 79% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans and 78% of independents saying their governors are doing an excellent or good job. Overall, however, Republicans give Trump higher ratings than they offer their governors.

The poll was conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement. Interviews were conducted April 21 to 26 among a random national sample of 1,008 adults, 70% of whom were reached on cellphones and 30% on landlines. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.



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