A number of polls have been released in recent weeks suggesting that Americans might not be ready to reopen society just yet. However, the National Restaurant Association observed that “the polls contrast with protests in states across the country demanding governors reopen their economies.”
As a general rule, when real world activity contradicts the polls, I assume that the polls aren’t asking the right questions. That certainly appears to be the case when it comes to reopening American society.
For example, the restaurant association cited a Washington Post/University of Maryland poll Monday claiming that only 26% of Americans support the reopening of dine-in restaurants. They also found a Morning Consult poll claiming that just 18% of U.S. adults said they feel comfortable eating at restaurants.
I’m sure the polls were methodologically well done and accurately reflect the public response to the questions they asked. But I also believe they give a fundamentally misleading understanding of the public mood. They dramatically understate the public desire to resume a responsible level of social interaction.
To begin with, as I discussed last week, my polling found that 60% of voters believe all businesses should be allowed to reopen. That’s quite a bit different from t\The Washington Post results showing that just 26% believe restaurants should be allowed to open. The difference is that my question included the provision that businesses should be allowed to reopen so long as they implemented appropriate social distancing guidelines.
The distinction leads to a pretty straightforward conclusion. People don’t want to keep businesses shut down; they simply want them to reopen safely. Deal with the risk and open your doors.
But the bigger question many are wondering about is this: When businesses reopen, will any customers show up? Anecdotal evidence suggests the answer may be a resounding yes. Businesses and customers are growing increasingly defiant of lockdown restrictions. States that still have harsh rules in effect are having a harder and harder time enforcing them.
“People don’t want to keep businesses shut down; they simply want them to reopen safely. Deal with the risk and open your doors.” — Scott Rasmussen
So why hasn’t surface-level national polling picked up on that reality? In this case, it’s not just the questions they’re asking. It’s who they’re asking.
For example, consider the poll showing that only 18% of adults would be comfortable eating at a restaurant today. A lot of people didn’t regularly eat at restaurants before the pandemic, and it really doesn’t matter how comfortable they would feel about the experience. So, I decided to focus only on those who would regularly go out for dinner.
Then, rather than asking about a generic restaurant, I asked “If your favorite restaurant established safe social distancing guidelines, how comfortable would you be going to that restaurant for a meal today?”
It’s impossible to ignore the value of trust in questions about reopening society. Customers may be wary of visiting restaurants in general, but businesses that have earned their trust are a different matter entirely.
As a result, we found that 54% of those who eat out regularly would be comfortable returning to their favorite restaurant today. In other words, just over half of regular restaurant customers are ready to return to familiar stomping grounds. That’s not enough to sustain the industry long-term, but it’s a pretty solid base to begin reopening the industry.
We found similar results in many other areas of life. Of those who regularly visited a barbershop, hair salon or nail salon, 65% would be comfortable returning today. Sixty-five percent (65%) of regular churchgoers would return to in-person worship this weekend. Sixty percent (60%) would be comfortable for a social gathering at a friend’s house. Most (54%) would also be comfortable shopping right now at their favorite retail store or mall.
These results confirm the willingness and desire of people to resume social interactions. But they all hinge on what people perceive as appropriate social distancing guidelines. Ultimately, that’s something every individual has to decide for themselves. The answer will almost certainly vary from setting-to-setting and it will change over time.
At this point in time, however, the most important thing we can do is recognize that the American people are ready to re-open society.
Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”