Vermonters show trust in state’s response, support extended social distancing, poll shows

By BENJY RENTON

A vast majority of Vermonters show a desire to delay the reopening of the state’s economy and continue social distancing restrictions, even as 26% surveyed have been laid off or lost a job, according to new polling data from a nationwide survey.

Conducted as a joint project between researchers at Northeastern University, Harvard University and Rutgers University, the Covid-19 Consortium surveyed over 22,900 Americans nationwide on various topics relating to the pandemic. Questions touched on how respondents have been affected by the pandemic to their trust in leaders, organizations and sources of information. The survey polled 158 Vermonters through an online system from April 17 to 26 and the results were released to the public on April 30. 24% of Vermonters surveyed identified as Republicans, 29% as Democrats and 41% as independents.

The pandemic has had wide-ranging effects on Vermonters, with 33% surveyed having started working remotely and 19% having taken pay cut due to reduced work hours or demand. At the forefront of Vermonters’ concerns are financial hardships and either themselves or a family member contracting the disease.

Vermonters mostly approved of measures that have been taken in the state to mitigate the spread of the virus, with 75% saying they “strongly approve” the cancellation of K-12 schools and 85% approving mandatory business closures. The state’s response to the coronavirus has been among the quickest when compared to nearby states, with Governor Phil Scott issuing a state of emergency on March 13, closing public schools on March 15 and announcing a stay at home order on March 24.

Throughout the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” period, Vermonters have shown high levels of adherence to social distancing restrictions, with the eighth highest reduction in movement in the nation, according to mobility data. 76% of those surveyed in Vermont indicated that they “very closely” followed health recommendations to avoid contact with other people, while 61% said that they “very closely” heeded the advice to wear a face mask outside of their home.

The vast majority of Vermonters indicated that they feel well-informed of the state of the outbreak — 90% agreed with the statement that they “feel well-informed about the steps I can take to protect myself from the virus.” 

The survey also asked where respondents have been receiving information related to the coronavirus and had a range of media choices. 51% of Vermonters indicated that they were informed by friends and family in the last 24 hours, consistent with the national average. 

Vermont’s consumption of print newspapers as a source of coronavirus information was higher than the national average — 19% in the state compared to 12% nationally. Vermonters consume less Fox News for information on the pandemic — 30% in Vermont compared to 37% nationally, while tuning into CNN and MSNBC more than the national average.

In every state nationwide, the approval rating of the state’s governor exceeds that of President Trump. Vermont has one of the highest gaps in the nation, with 75% approving of Governor Scott’s handling of the pandemic, compared to 32% for President Trump. Governor Scott has been holding press briefings three times a week, with members of his administration updating the public on the state’s latest modeling data and actions the administration has taken to begin to restart the economy. 88% of Vermonters think that the state government is “reacting about right” to the outbreak, which is one of the highest rates in the nation. 50% indicated that they think the federal government is “not taking the outbreak seriously enough.”

Approval of Governor Scott’s handling of the pandemic is in line with many state governors in New England, a mixture of Republicans and Democrats.

Vermonters’ trust in local and state governments is consistent with their trust in medical and scientific professionals, with only 6% indicating they trust scientists and researchers “not at all” or “not much.” 27% of Vermonters trust the White House and 44% trust President Trump “not at all” to best handle the current coronavirus outbreak.

Respondents were asked when the country should reopen the economy and resume business activity, which has become a partisan issue in recent weeks. At the time of survey collection, 35% of respondents who identified as Democrats said that the country should resume business activity “after more than eight weeks,” compared to 16% of Republicans and 26% of independents. In Vermont, respondents generally thought that the country should open between four and eight weeks from the second half of April, when the survey was conducted.

In recent weeks, Governor Scott has announced steps to reopen the state’s economy, including permitting gatherings of 10 people or fewer, allowing elective surgeries to resume and permitting the return to work for construction and manufacturing companies with 10 or fewer employees. The governor is expected to make more announcements to restart various sectors of the state’s economy in the coming weeks.

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