After a full year living under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the American public finally sees a brighter future, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS. More than three-quarters (77%) now say the worst of the outbreak is behind us, higher than at any other point in the last year by 26 points.
The pandemic continues to top the list of important issues facing the country, but fewer call it the most important issue now (30%) than those who said so in January (46%). And a smaller share now say economic conditions in the country are worsening on account of coronavirus (30% now compared with 40% in October).
The brightening public outlook on the pandemic comes as cases and deaths are dropping and vaccine distribution is ramping up, with President Joe Biden promising that the country will have enough vaccine to cover the entire adult population by the end of May.
As Biden prepares to stand before the country in a prime-time address marking the one-year anniversary of widespread lockdowns in the United States, most Americans say they have a lot (42%) or some (25%) confidence in him to lead the country out of the pandemic (30% have no confidence), and 63% say that the President has a clear plan to vaccinate a large enough share of the population to achieve herd immunity.
But most say he lacks a clear plan for restoring the economy to the way it was before the pandemic (55%) or for getting children back to in-person learning in schools (53%).
Partisan divides have eased in the public’s overall outlook on the pandemic. While there was a 28-percentage-point gap between Democrats and Republicans over whether the worst of the outbreak was over in January, that has narrowed to 10 points in the new poll, as optimism has risen sharply across party lines (from 66% to 84% among Republicans, from 47% to 77% among independents, and from 38% to 74% among Democrats).
The share naming coronavirus as the nation’s top problem has dropped 14 points since January among both Democrats and Republicans, though Democrats remain far more likely than Republicans to consider the pandemic the country’s most important issue (51% among Democrats vs. 11% among Republicans).
Views on the pandemic’s effects on the economy, however, remain deeply partisan, with Democrats and Republicans moving in opposite directions.
In October, most Republicans (58%) said the economy was starting to recover, and just 11% said it was continuing to get worse. Now, only 27% of Republicans say the economy is beginning to recover and 34% say it is worsening. Among Democrats, 24% say the economy is still getting worse, down 42 points since October, while the share who see a recovery underway is up 17 points to 26%.
Overall, there has been a shift away from a worsening economy (30% see it that way, down from 40%), toward a stabilized one (42% see it that way, up from 29% in October), with 25% saying the economy is beginning to recover.
There are also wide partisan gaps in perceptions of whether Biden has a clear plan for restoring the economy, returning children to in-person learning, encouraging vaccines and regarding confidence in his ability to lead the country out of the pandemic.
While 82% of Democrats have a lot of confidence in Biden’s ability to lead the country through the pandemic, just 35% of independents and 6% of Republicans say the same. There’s a similarly large gap over whether Biden has a clear plan for restoring the economy (78% of Democrats say yes compared with 37% of independents and 7% of Republicans), but the divide is slightly smaller over getting children back in schools (73% of Democrats say Biden has a clear plan for that vs. 40% of independents and 14% of Republicans) and over vaccinating enough people to achieve herd immunity (89% of Democrats say he has a clear plan on that, as do 62% of independents and 34% of Republicans).
The survey suggests about 7 in 10 American adults have either received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine or say they will try to get one. Political divisions over the vaccines continue to be large: While 92% of Democrats say they have gotten a dose of the vaccine or plan to get one, that falls to 50% among Republicans.
About two-thirds (66%) say that vaccine distribution in the area where they live is going well, but just a quarter (26%) say it’s going “very well.” Most Americans who want a vaccine and haven’t gotten one say they haven’t yet tried to schedule an appointment for a vaccine, but about 1 in 10 overall say they have tried and have been unable to secure one.
The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS March 3 through 8 among a random national sample of 1,009 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
The methodology and weighting for the poll incorporates some changes to CNN’s polling practices made starting with the January 2021 survey. Interviews conducted on cell phones made up 75% of the total, up from 65% in recent CNN surveys. Dialing extended over six days rather than four days, allowing for more effort to be made to contact those who are not easily reachable. Demographic weighting was adjusted to account for more discrete education categories broken out by race, and a geographic weight was applied to ensure representative distribution by population density.