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Attention, Congress: Survey finds both Republicans and Democrats liked the stimulus checks

The American Family Survey shows bipartisan support for helping families. What other pandemic-related policies do Americans support?

Kate Ostroski raises Yaritza Mendoza’s arm as she teaches ballet at Bountiful School of Ballet, which Ostroski co-owns, in Woods Cross on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
Kate Ostroski raises Yaritza Mendoza’s arm as she teaches ballet at Bountiful School of Ballet, which Ostroski co-owns, in Woods Cross on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When the pandemic first affected Bountiful School of Ballet, owners Kate Ostroski and Megan Ware figured the restrictions would be a short-term frustration. A few weeks later, they weren’t entirely sure the 48-year-old business would survive.

Now, six months after the coronavirus began shuttering businesses across the U.S., Ostroski and Ware are teaching in-person classes again and say they have weathered the pandemic with no significant loss of income.

“We didn’t know in April if we would still be in existence. But we did it,” Ostroski said.

In this way, the Utah women are representative of the majority of Americans, who say that economically, they’re getting along just fine, according to new findings of the American Family Survey, a nationally representative poll conducted for the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

The economic well-being of the majority does not diminish the effect the pandemic had on Americans who have been financially hurt. Nearly one-quarter have seen their income diminish, and 4 in 10 report a change in employment, creating “pockets of suffering” that persist across the nation, according to the report, released Tuesday. But the pandemic has distributed its pain unequally, and most Americans have not lost income, nor do a majority know people who have contracted COVID-19. (Just 36% do.)

That’s good news that is difficult to cheer when nearly 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and millions are still hurting financially.

But Americans who are doing well say it’s because they were prepared for the pandemic, not because of government interventions. And they have a low opinion of how institutions such as schools, churches, and governments have responded. (Although in a rare show of unity, both Republicans and Democrats really liked those stimulus checks.)

Here’s a look at what the American Family Survey — a poll of 3,000 people in July, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9% — tells us about how families are faring financially, what they like and don’t like about government interventions and what it all means for policymakers.

Megan Ware guides Sadeelynn Savage’s foot up as she teaches ballet at Bountiful School of Ballet, which Ware co-owns, in Woods Cross on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
Megan Ware guides Sadeelynn Savage’s foot up as she teaches ballet at Bountiful School of Ballet, which Ware co-owns, in Woods Cross on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

‘A really important story’

Although many aspects of the pandemic have been politicized, to include the wearing of masks and the reopening of schools, “when it comes to Uncle Sam stepping in to rescue the American economy, surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats have similar world views,” the report says.

About three-quarters of Americans — 72% of Republicans and 77% of Democrats — said that relief checks were helpful government policy. And 66% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats liked the small-business relief provided by the federal government.

Among the recipients were Ostroski and Ware who employ 12 teachers of ballet and jazz at Bountiful School of Ballet, which currently serves about 250 students.

Of the Paycheck Protection loans offered by the Small Business Administration through local banks, Ware said, “That was a game changer.” They were able to get a loan within three days from Celtic Bank, which enabled them to keep paying all of their faculty, except for three instructors who took voluntary furloughs. “We would have been able to survive for a little while without it, but it would have been pretty hard,” Ware said.

According to the American Family Survey, the direct assistance to families and small businesses are the two forms of assistance of which most Americans approve. (Seven in 10 Americans approved of assistance to individuals and families; 64% liked help provided to small business.)

Six in 10 approved of measures that establish a pause or hold on mortgages and rent, and roughly the same number like government limits on prices.

What they don’t like, by an overwhelming number, is assistance to big businesses. Just 31% want the government to help big businesses, and even fewer — 20% — would like to see elections postponed because of the pandemic.

The dislike of assistance for large business is not surprising, given still lingering resentment over government assistance to banks, airlines and other large businesses they felt undeserving during the Great Recession, said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Most people think that large businesses, many of which are very wealthy, should be able to manage on their own,” she said, adding that Americans are consistently skeptical of big institutions.

About 34% of respondents said the government was prepared for the pandemic, and just 37% said it was helpful to their families. “This has been a referendum on the performance of government, and all the polls show the federal government has not done well, Donald Trump has not done well,” Bowman said.

Public schools also fared poorly in the public’s eye: 32% of respondents said they were prepared and just 19% said they were helpful. Churches also were not seen as helpful, with 23% rating them as helpful, 47% as prepared.

So, who do Americans think were prepared to deal with the pandemic and its effects? In wide measure, they credit themselves, with their neighbors and employers close behind.

Seventy-two percent said their own households were prepared, 58% percent said their neighbors were and 54% said their employers were.

And Bowman said that Americans’ confidence in their own ability to withstand the pandemic and its challenges was not misplaced.

“Americans, those who had jobs, were remarkably resilient in all this, such as in waiting for products to be on the shelves and those kinds of things. They really were, and still are, quite resilient. There were some tough times at the very beginning, but we’re managing to cope.”

She added, “It’s hard to talk about when we know so many people are suffering, but that is a really important story that comes out of this poll, and it should be acknowledged.”

‘We’re doing OK’

Americans haven’t just fared well because they got government loans and stimulus checks, but also because of their own resourcefulness.

While Ostroski and Ware (and their employees) benefited from the Paycheck Protection loan, and Ostroski and her husband got stimulus checks, the business survived, in part, because they were nimble in their early response.

They cobbled together new offerings for their students and restructured tuition, allowing families to choose options like live instruction over Zoom, or recorded classes for a 40% discount. And they were gratified by the response; most families opted to continue with lessons and to pay full tuition. A few dropped out of the program when in-person classes resumed; some because of vulnerable family members, a few because they disliked the school’s new mask policy.

But most were supportive of the business and many sent notes of encouragement, Ware said. “Some of the emails we got would bring you to tears, they were so supportive, so kind, so above-and-beyond.”

Looking back on the challenges of the year, including the effort it took to put on their annual June recital in a new venue with pandemic protocols, Ware said, “It was hard. We could talk for an hour about how hard it was. But the kids were amazing, and the parents were supportive. We’ve been very lucky. At this point, we’re fine. We’re doing OK.”

The American Family Survey found a similar sentiment.

“The bottom line is that there are serious pockets of trouble in American family life at the moment, but these do tend to be pockets and not swaths. Most people’s family life remains largely positive at the moment, and they report it as such,” the report says.

The complete American Family Survey and those from former years are online at deseret.com/american-family-survey.