The Covid Canvas, Pt. 2

Jun 9, 2020

How have Americans’ attitudes about returning to normal activities changed in recent weeks? Dr. Don Vaughn surveyed over a thousand Americans about reopening the economy and returning to restaurants, airplanes, and sporting events. Consumer sentiment has improved, but it still has a ways to go in most sectors.

Highlights

  1. We used the Invisibly Realtime Research™ survey unit to ask Americans when they would consider returning to a variety of normal activities.
  2. Respondents are more likely to return soon to low-density activities such as going to the dentist and getting a haircut.
  3. Since the first survey two weeks ago, there has been a broad improvement in consumer sentiment in all areas surveyed except airlines, which may face a more gradual, prolonged return to full economic activity.
  4. A majority of respondents already have cancelled their summer plans and used their stimulus checks to pay bills.

Two weeks ago, we asked Americans when they would consider returning to various activities. Specifically, we asked them to predict at what point in the future they would consider going back to normal activities like dining at restaurants, going to the gym, and going to large sporting events. We found that a majority of Americans were unwilling to return to any of these activities at present. Many anticipated that they would return to some activities, such as the gym and restaurants, within the next six months, though over 70% said they would not return to large sporting events and cruise ships within that time frame. We showed that Americans’ hesitancy to re-engage in certain activities was partially explained by density—both the population density of the respondents' home state and the typical crowd density associated with the activities in question.

 

The COVID Canvas, Part 2

From May 27th to June 3rd, we used Realtime Research™ surveys to re-canvas Americans about their intentions to resume participation in various activities. Invisibly Realtime Research™ surveys differ from traditional online surveys in that the questions are shown to the user on webpages in place of an ad (Figure 1). Unlike Google Surveys, which block access to content until the questions are answered, Realtime Research™ surveys are optional, thus ensuring that participants are responding voluntarily.

We asked Americans when they would consider visiting the dentist, getting a haircut, going to the gym, dining at restaurants, traveling on airplanes, vacationing with crowds, attending sporting events, and going on cruises. Respondents answered each question by selecting “Now,” “1-2 Months,” “3-6 Months,” or “6+ Months.” Over the week-long survey period, we received 1,444 responses from individuals representing all 50 states.

 

Covid Canvas pt2 - Fig 1

Figure 1. An example of the 300x250 Realtime Research™ survey unit. Questions are shown to the user on webpages in place of an ad.


Results

The results are clear: Americans are ready to return immediately to some pre-pandemic activities (Figure 2a). A majority are willing to go to the dentist, get a haircut, and dine at restaurants immediately, and nearly half are willing to return to the gym, go on a cruise, and return to working in an office. On the other hand, smaller percentages of Americans are willing to consider attending a large sporting event, vacation somewhere with crowds, or consider traveling on an airplane in the near future.

We compared these results to our previous COVID Canvas results. To simplify this comparison, we combined the 4 possible responses into a single number—the Covid Consideration Index (CCI)—by assigning a value to each response: 0 for “6+ Months,” 33 for “3-6 Months,” 66 for “1-2 Months,” and 100 for "Now." In the time between the first and second surveys, consumer sentiment improved across many sectors including restaurants, vacationing, and sporting events. There is, however, one notable exception—air travel—for which consumer sentiment actually worsened between the first and second surveys (Figure 2b).

Covid Canvas pt2 - Fig 2

Figure 2. Americans are ready to return to low-density activities. A. Results from our Realtime Research™ surveys suggest that Americans are more ready to return to activities that involve fewer people in close proximity than to those with denser crowds. B. Comparing these results with those from two weeks prior, consumer sentiment has improved for all activities except for air travel.


 

We also asked Americans a set of more general pandemic-related questions regarding their trust in the CDC, their state’s reopening plan, their stimulus check, and their summer plans. The results are clear: Americans generally trust the CDC, are nervous about the speed of reopening, used their stimulus check to pay bills, and already have cancelled their summer plans (Figure 3).

Covid Canvas pt2 - Fig 3

Figure 3. General questions about living in the pandemic. Americans generally trust the CDC, are nervous about the speed of reopening, used their stimulus check to pay bills, and already have cancelled their summer plans.


 

Discussion

We show here that Americans continue to be more hesitant about re-engaging in activities that involve denser crowds. Although we found an increase in readiness to re-engage in many areas, a majority of Americans are still unlikely to consider vacationing with crowds or traveling on an airplane in the near future. This result may explain why air traffic is still down 83.5% relative to this time last year. It is thus possible that full recovery of these sectors may require significant investment in infrastructure to mitigate transmission risks and allay the public’s concerns. As of the date of this post, no commercial airline nor the Federal Aviation Administration has such a system in place.

Our more general panel of questions revealed that Americans generally continue to trust the CDC as an institution, but they were still nervous about their state’s reopening plan—specifically, a majority feared that it was moving too fast. Most respondents also already had cancelled their summer plans, and they used their stimulus check to pay bills rather than fund a vacation.

We intend these results to improve the predictive modeling of businesses across America so they can plan supply lines and hirings accordingly. We selected these questions to capture a wide snapshot of Americans’ plans regarding several types of economic reopening. However, the Realtime Research™ unit may be used to gather more nuanced information in particular business sectors. These data will be updated again in 2 weeks.

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