Tar Heels worried about schools reopening, divided on Trump, Cooper

Tar Heels have serious concerns about schools’ reopening and are starkly polarized about President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the Elon University Poll has found.

The opt-in survey of 1,382 North Carolinians was conducted Oct. 9–11 in partnership with The (Raleigh) News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Durham Herald Sun. It has a credibility interval of ± 2.9 percent.

Thirty-five percent of respondents gave Trump an A or a B for his handling of the pandemic, while 43 percent gave him an F.

Gov. Roy Cooper received mostly B’s and C’s. Meanwhile feelings on state restrictions have shifted:

  • 37 percent of respondents now say they’re “about right” — up from 33 percent in June;
  • 34 percent now say they aren’t restrictive enough — down from 46 percent in June; and
  • 28 percent now say they’re too restrictive — up from about 21 percent in June.

School reopening is the major debate in the gubernatorial election, according to Jason Husser, director of the poll and associate professor of political science.

“While we found Gov. Cooper’s rating on handling the pandemic has slipped since our June poll, we also found most North Carolina residents did not find the state’s policies too restrictive,” Husser said. “Similarly, only about 1 in 4 residents thought the economy has reopened too slowly, or wanted a swift return to in-person schools. Taken together, our results suggest that campaigns based on rapid reopening of the state will have great difficulty winning a majority on that issue alone.”

COVID-19’s effects continue on both personal and economic levels, the poll found.

  • 56 percent of respondents say the pandemic has them worried about finances;
  • Half said they personally know someone who’s gotten COVID-19 — up from 31 percent in June;
  • 19 percent say they’ve lost jobs or been laid off because of the pandemic; and
  • 15 percent of parents or caregivers say they’ve quit jobs to assist students with remote learning.

The pandemic also has affected respondents’ mental health. Based on questions about anxiety, depression, loneliness and hope, 52 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 48 percent of those who have personally experienced the economic impact of the pandemic were classified as having poor mental health. Also in that group were 42 percent of caregivers for children in K–12 schools.

Those with the best mental health included 42 percent of those 65 or older, and 47 percent of those who have experienced no economic impact from the pandemic.

“These findings demonstrate how the ongoing pandemic, and likely the broader climate of political instability, are negatively impacting these groups in particular,” said Kaye Usry, assistant director of the poll and assistant professor of political science and policy studies.

Back to school

Most schools had children start the year learning from home. Eighty-nine percent of Democratic respondents and 71 percent of Republican respondents said that was a good idea. Blacks were more likely to support the idea than whites. Men and women were evenly divided.

Forty-eight percent of respondents supported K–5 students’ returning to the classroom. Forty-one percent did not. Eleven percent didn’t have an opinion.

Opinions about when students should go back to school were divided:

  • “Only when there is a vaccine and/or treatment for COVID” was the most popular response at 34 percent. Democrats were far more supportive of waiting for a vaccine or treatment for a return to the classroom than Republicans, and Blacks were more supportive of this approach than whites;
  • “As soon as possible” received 22 percent. Republicans were four times as likely to say “as soon as possible” as Democrats, men were much more likely to say it than women, and whites were three times as likely to say it as Blacks;
  • Not until the start of the next school year, 2021–2022, received 14 percent;
  • “In the next couple of months” received 12 percent; and
  • Before the end of the current school year received 8 percent.

Sixty percent of respondents were “extremely worried” or “very worried” about in-person learning spreading the virus among students, teachers, parents and other caregivers when resumes. Thirty-three percent were “somewhat” or “a little” worried, while six percent were “not at all worried.”

“These results suggest that there are no politically easy choices for decision-makers at the state and local level,” Usry said.

About 65 percent of parents and caregivers said their students have been learning mostly online, 19 percent reported in-person classes, and 16 percent reported a combination. Forty percent said the learning experience hasn’t been as good, while 33 percent said it’s been better.

Forty-five percent said remote instruction has had a positive effect on their students, 36 percent said it’s had a negative effect, and 19 percent said it’s had no effect. Thirty-nine said their students are learning less this school year, 33 percent said their students are learning about the same amount, and 29 percent said their students are learning more.

Vaccinations

Despite concerns about COVID-19, the poll found many respondents with reservations about using a vaccine once one is approved:

  • A third said they would use a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the FDA;
  • Another third said “it depends”;
  • 25 percent said they wouldn’t use a vaccine; and
  • 9 percent say they weren’t sure.

Republicans were more likely to say they would take the vaccine (43 percent), while Democrats were most likely to say “it depends” (37 percent). Men, whites, older residents and those who get flu shots every year or almost every year were much more likely to say they would take an approved vaccine.

“Many public health experts view a future vaccine as the best way for society to emerge out of the pandemic,” Husser said. “However, most North Carolina residents are skeptical or plan to avoid the vaccine. Though political leanings clearly make a difference, … a person’s history with the flu shot seems far more important than politics. Those who never take the flu shot are about six times more likely to say they won’t take an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine than those who take the flu shot every year.”

Forty-three percent of respondents said they get flu shots every year, and 12 percent said “almost every year.” But with the pandemic underway, 37 percent said they were more likely to get flu shots this year, while 44 percent said it wouldn’t make any difference, and 12 percent said they are less likely.