Poll: Most WA voters wary of reopening economy too soon

A new Crosscut/Elway Poll finds 76% of voters believe the pandemic restrictions are working, and 61% are concerned about lifting them too soon.

protestors in Olympia.

According to the Washington State Patrol, approximately 2,500 demonstrators gathered April 19, 2020, in Olympia for a protest opposing Washington state's “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order to slow the coronavirus outbreak. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

A vast majority of Washingtonians are more concerned about public health than the economy, according to results from a new Crosscut/Elway Poll focused on the coronavirus. People who responded to the statewide poll expressed views very much in contrast to recent protests calling for an end to the governor’s stay-at-home order.

When asked why they think the number of coronavirus cases and deaths have been well below early estimates, 76% said they believe the restrictions and precautions ordered by government agencies have worked to control the spread of the virus.

Only 17% disagreed, saying the danger was exaggerated in the first place and most of the restrictions were not needed. Eight percent had no opinion. Those numbers held up across political parties, geographic locations and demographic groups, although they were more pronounced in Western Washington and among Democrats. Ninety-two percent of Democrats said the restrictions were working, as did 52% of Republicans.

Related: What you need to know about Washington's stay-at-home order

While Mary Briner, an independent voter from Lynnwood who took part in the poll, is very concerned about the people out of work right now, including herself, she is in total agreement with the restrictions the governor ordered and has been dismayed by the protests, including one that attracted more than 2,000 people in Olympia last weekend.

“I think they’re stupid. They are shortsighted and selfish, to be perfectly honest. It’s a shame,” said the 51-year-old, who works in real estate. Briner said she is concerned about the next wave of coronavirus cases and doesn’t envy the governor and others making decisions for the state and the nation.

“We’re restricting to save lives and flatten the curve for health care workers,” she said, adding that she’s also mindful of the balance between public health and economic concerns.

“It doesn’t matter what they choose; somebody is not going to be happy,” said Briner, who rated Inslee’s work during this crisis as good and President Donald Trump's as satisfactory.

graphic showing 76% of those polled think government action controlled spread of coronavirus

The 405 registered voters, polled on the phone and online April 18 to 20, were asked what poses a greater risk to the country: keeping the restrictions on too long and risking more harm to the economy or lifting the restrictions too soon and risking public health.

An overwhelming majority, 61%, said the risk to public health was greater than the risk to the economy, while 31% felt the risk to the economy was greater. Eight percent had no opinion. The Crosscut/Elway Poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5%.

The political divide on this question was stark, however. While 82% of Democrats said lifting the restrictions too soon was the greater risk, 64% of Republicans said keeping restrictions on too long was the bigger problem. Independents more closely aligned with Democrats on this question, with 59% more worried about public health, and 29% more worried about the economy.

Interestingly, 56% of poll respondents said both that the restrictions are working and the greater risk is lifting them too soon, while only 15% said the opposite: that the danger was exaggerated and the greater risk was keeping restrictions on too long.

graphic showing 61% think the bigger danger is lifting restrictions too soon

Some 14% of the people polled said they thought the restrictions were working, but also thought the greater danger was in restrictions going on too long.

Many protesters appear to go well beyond this line, arguing that personal liberty trumps public health concerns. Several conservative candidates for governor, for example, have come out strongly against Inslee’s policies over the past few days, including Loren Culp, police chief in Republic in northeastern Washington. He said Inslee is not his "king" and can’t tell him what to do.

“His job is to run the state’s executive branch. Not to run our lives. Not to tell us what to do. Not to tell us we can’t go fishing. Not to tell us that we can’t go to the park or go into the woods or that we have to stay in our house. That’s not what happens in a free country,” Culp said in a statement.

Steve Fleischmann, a retiree from Vancouver who participated in the poll, said he opposes some of the governor’s actions and thinks he has gone too far, using restrictions on fishing and golf as his examples.

“They say you’ve got to go out and exercise, and yet they limit you on doing something where you are out in the middle of open fields,” said the 72-year-old, who says he once identified as a Republican and now labels himself politically unattached. Fleischmann said he and his friends are driving to Oregon to golf.

He agrees that the restrictions have worked but doesn’t like the way the governor has sold his plan. He gave Inslee an unsatisfactory rating, while giving Trump a good rating. Fleischmann said the governor has come off as too controlling and has scolded people too much in his news conferences. He agreed that the same could be said of the president, but “Trump’s Trump. And it’s expected of him.”

graphic showing Gov. Inslee has a better approval rating in Washington than President Trump

The poll found most Washingtonians do not agree with Fleischmann’s assessment of either Trump or Inslee. The governor received a 75% positive approval rating in the poll, with 21% saying they did not like the job he was doing in responding to the coronavirus. The poll found 42% of Washingtonians approved of Trump’s performance and 55% disapproved of the president’s actions around COVID-19.

However, as could be expected, Republicans were much more enthusiastic about the president, giving him a 95% positive approval rating. Inslee received a positive rating nearly across the board, including a 61% approval rating in Eastern Washington and a 49-49 split among Republicans.

The poll also found Washingtonians are hungry for information about the coronavirus. The people polled said they pay attention, on average, to 3.2 different sources of news. The top sources for everyone were local TV news, online news sites and CNN.

Beth Frick, a part-time census worker who has been furloughed because of the coronavirus, spends a lot of time watching TV, listening to the radio and reading local newspapers, online news sites and social media. The 69-year-old from Tacoma said the governor has done a great job handling this crisis from the beginning and said she thought the protestors were “a bunch of nutcases.”

Frick said few people planned to be out of work and struggling financially right now, but to those who want to go back to work and risk harming others, she said, “that’s tough noogies to me.”

She doesn’t agree with the closing of golf courses, however, because, “You’re probably safer on the golf course than you are in the grocery store.” But the restrictions are working, Frick said, and we’re flattening the curve, so she’s being patient about golfing and meeting her friends for happy hour.

“We have to make sure this curve flattens like it is for at least two weeks. If you allow things to open too early, then the curve is going to start going up again,” Frick said.

In the meantime, she is enjoying the simple pleasures of working in her garden and happy surprises like finding bleach at the local drug store.

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