UGA poll: Support grows for Kemp’s rollback of virus restrictions

More than a month after Gov. Brian Kemp began to reopen the state’s economy, a growing number of Georgians approve of his decision to relax coronavirus restrictions, according to a University of Georgia poll released Wednesday. But most remain anxious about contracting the disease and alarmed about the prospect of a second wave.

The poll of registered voters showed Georgians are evenly divided over Kemp's decision to lift much of the shelter-in-place order, with about 40% on either side of the issue. That's a 16-point improvement from the school's April poll, which found about 24% supported the move.

About three-quarters of respondents say they’re concerned that they or someone in their family will be exposed to the virus. But the proportion of Georgians who say they’re “very” or “extremely” worried has dropped by 11 points since April.

A majority of voters say fighting the disease is more important than restarting the economy, though they are more sharply divided about other debates. About 42% said k-12 schools should resume in-person classes in the fall, compared with one-third who rejected the idea.

And most Georgians indicate they’re still uncomfortable visiting some of the businesses that Kemp allowed to reopen in late April. About one-third report they have dined in person at a restaurant, 28% said they have gotten a haircut and one-quarter said they have visited a beach, lake or park since Kemp began easing limits.

An even smaller number said they visited a nail salon (14%) or hit the lanes at a bowling alley (10%).

The polls results also include a glimmer of optimistic economic news. About one-third of respondents say they’ve lost their job or are working less because of the pandemic – down about 7 percentage points from April. A majority – 56% – report no change in their work status, while 12% say they’re working more.

The online survey of 1,218 registered Georgia voters was conducted May 29-31 by the university’s school of Public and International Affiars. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

The school’s polls are typically conducted by phone, but UGA closed its call center due to the pandemic. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution commissions its polls from the school, although this survey was conducted independently.

It’s one of the first public statewide polls since Kemp began scaling back coronavirus restrictions in late April, allowing restaurants to reopen dining rooms and close-contact businesses such as tattoo parlors and barbershops to serve customers again if they follow safety guidelines.

That decision sparked widespread condemnation from Democrats, public safety experts and some Republicans. President Donald Trump repeatedly chastised Kemp for his approach, saying it was “too soon” to jump-start those businesses. And scientists warned of a wave of new infections.

But Trump has more recently endorsed Kemp’s strategy, and Vice President Mike Pence – the head of the White House coronavirus task force – called the state a model for the rest of the nation during one of two recent visits to Georgia. Kemp has more aggressively rolled back restrictions, including recently permitting bars and nightclubs to reopen.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

In recent weeks, state data shows the rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths has essentially plateaued at an elevated rate, said Ben Lopman, an Emory University epidemiologist. He added that Georgia risks new outbreaks as more businesses reopen.

The poll points to challenges ahead as Kemp and other state leaders decide whether to ease more restrictions on large gatherings and scale back a shelter-in-place order that urges Georgians over 65 and the “medically fragile” to stay home.

A slim majority of voters – 51% – said they were “very” or “extremely” worried about a second coronavirus outbreak this fall. If that happens, two-thirds favor another broad shelter-in-place order.

Kemp has indicated that's an unlikely step, saying recently that "if the virus comes back, I don't see us shutting down our economy anymore."

The poll also shows a sharp contrast in how Georgians view the government response.

A majority of voters – 56% – approve of how local communities have approached the disease, while 48% support the state’s strategy and 45% back the federal response. Only about one-third of respondents approve of how Congress has handled the crisis.

Of those, Republicans overwhelmingly backed the state and federal response, while roughly half of Democrats disapproved of the state strategy and a majority opposed the way the federal government was responding.

The deep partisan divides surfaced in other questions, too.

Nearly two-thirds of Democrats oppose Kemp’s shelter-in-place decision, while roughly the same proportion of Republicans supported it. Republicans were more likely to say that Kemp’s measures to contain the virus were “appropriate” and more willing to back the reopening of schools.

And far more Republicans said they’ve dined-in at restaurants or shopped at retail stores than Democrats.

Staff Writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this article.


How the poll was conducted:

The survey of 1,218 registered voters in Georgia was conducted May 29-31 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. Because of the pandemic, the telephone call center at UGA has been temporarily shut down, so the poll relied on an online panel from Dynata Corp. Respondents were sent an electronic invitation allowing them to voluntarily participate in the survey. The results were weighted for race, sex, age and education to reflect the state population of registered voters. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

UGA POLL 

The online survey of 1,218 registered Georgia voters was conducted May 29-31 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs from May 29 to 31. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

How worried are you that you or someone in your family will be exposed to the coronavirus (COVID-19)? 

Extremely worried — 21%

Very worried — 20%

Somewhat worried — 35%

Not very worried — 15%

Not worried at all — 7%

Don’t know — 2%

How worried are you about a second coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak occurring in the fall? 

Extremely worried — 28%

Very worried — 23%

Somewhat worried — 27%

Not very worried — 15%

Not worried at all — 5%

Don’t know — 2%

Currently, which is more important: restarting the economy or fighting the coronavirus (COVID-19)? 

Economy — 38%

Coronavirus — 53%

Don’t know — 9%

Do you approve or disapprove of how the federal government is handling the coronavirus outbreak? 

Approve — 18%

Somewhat approve — 27%

Neither — 20%

Somewhat disapprove — 15%

Disapprove — 21%

Do you approve or disapprove of how the state government is handling the coronavirus outbreak? 

Approve — 22%

Somewhat approve — 26%

Neither — 20%

Somewhat disapprove — 17%

Disapprove — 15%

Do you approve or disapprove of how local government (city or county) is handling the coronavirus outbreak? 

Approve — 23%

Somewhat approve — 33%

Neither — 23%

Somewhat disapprove — 12%

Disapprove — 8%

Do you approve or disapprove of how leaders in Congress are handling the coronavirus outbreak? 

Approve — 12%

Somewhat approve — 21%

Neither — 28%

Somewhat disapprove — 22%

Disapprove — 17%

Do you approve or disapprove of how public health officials are handling the coronavirus outbreak? 

Approve — 25%

Somewhat approve — 36%

Neither — 22%

Somewhat disapprove — 12%

Disapprove — 5%

To what extent do you approve or disapprove of Gov. Kemp’s decision to end the statewide shelter-in-place order? 

Strongly disapprove — 22%

Somewhat disapprove — 19%

Neutral — 19%

Somewhat approve — 21%

Strongly approve — 20%

If a second outbreak does occur in the fall, should Gov. Kemp issue another shelter-in-place order? 

Yes — 65%

No — 21%

Don’t know — 14%

Have the measures taken by the federal government to slow the spread of the virus been appropriate, have they gone too far, or have they not gone far enough? 

Appropriate — 44%

Gone too far — 18%

Not gone far enough — 38%

Have the measures taken by the state government to slow the spread of the virus been appropriate, have they gone too far, or have they not gone far enough? 

Appropriate — 48%

Gone too far — 16%

Not gone far enough — 37%

How has your employment situation changed as a result of the coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic? 

Working more — 12%

Working less — 21%

Lost job — 10%

No change — 56%

In your opinion, should k-12 schools in Georgia resume in-person classes this fall? 

Yes — 42%

No — 33%

Don’t know — 25%

Have you gotten a haircut since Gov. Kemp ended the statewide shelter-in-place order? 

Yes — 28%

No — 72%

Have you shopped at a retail store since Gov. Kemp ended the statewide shelter-in-place order? 

Yes — 49%

No — 51%

Have you dined in at a restaurant since Gov. Kemp ended the statewide shelter-in-place order? 

Yes — 32%

No — 68%

Have you gone to a nail salon since Gov. Kemp ended the statewide shelter-in-place order? 

Yes — 14%

No — 86%

Have you gone to a bowling alley since Gov. Kemp ended the statewide shelter-in-place order? 

Yes — 10%

No — 90%

Have you gone to a beach, park or lake since Gov. Kemp ended the statewide shelter-in-place order? 

Yes — 24%

No — 76%