Amanda Vibelius, a stay-at-home mother in rural Arizona, is angry and overwhelmed.
Her father is diabetic, a condition that cost him work because of the coronavirus. As cases skyrocket in her state, she’s nervous about allowing her 11-year-old daughter to join friends at the playground. And she has warned her husband, a doctor, that if he contracts the virus, she will kick him out of the house to quarantine.
But, like a striking number of frustrated Americans, Ms. Vibelius says she is also hopeful. A Republican-turned-independent, who is “leaning more and more Democrat every day,” Ms. Vibelius thinks a rebound may come quickly — as long as President Trump loses in November.
“It took too long to take precautions and it reopened too soon, and that’s why we’re getting these spikes,” she said. The country will come back, she said, “when we get rid of the current administration.”
Nearly six months after the first case of coronavirus reached the United States, a majority of registered voters say they are anxious, exhausted and angry, according to a poll by The New York Times and Siena College. Yet even as they brace themselves for months of challenges from the virus, many remain optimistic about the country’s future, viewing this moment of pandemic, economic devastation and social unrest as an opportunity for progress — one they can help shape.
The poll and follow-up interviews with respondents reveal an electorate acutely attuned to the ways in which the health crisis and economic hardships have seeped into their lives, and to the idea that the political process — and their vote — might improve things. The usual personality contests and ideological showdowns of presidential campaigns have given way to immediate shocks, like losing a job or knowing someone who died from Covid-19, and deciding whether to hold Mr. Trump ultimately responsible.
For other voters, the decision is not so complicated: They are rejecting the president because of his divisive rhetoric and his assault on democratic norms.
The mood of the country has rarely been so enmeshed in the country’s politics. Nearly every four years, politicians try to energize supporters by describing the presidential election as the most important of their lifetime. For once, voters may actually agree.
“As Americans, I mean, for centuries, we’ve overcome things,” said Troy Howard, a general manager from Charlotte, N.C. “And we will overcome this. It’s who we are.”
Mr. Howard said in an interview that he was frustrated about the current state of the country but hopeful about the long run — not least because he thinks Mr. Trump will be beaten in November.
The shift in the national mood has been swift and striking. After years of economic growth, only one-third of poll respondents give the economy positive marks. The virus has become so far-reaching that nearly one in five say they know someone who has died of it — including one-third of African-Americans, who have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Fifty-seven percent of registered voters believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
Families that once debated educational choices now face discussions about whether attending school will even be an option. Once-routine trips to pick up a gallon of milk are loaded with the politics of whether to wear a mask. Protests of police killings have injected new and sometimes difficult discussions about race into daily conversations.
At the same time, most voters describe themselves as optimistic about America. Even as unemployment rates reach some of the highest levels since the Great Depression, more than seven in 10 voters believe economic conditions will be better in a year. Sixty-eight percent of voters say they feel hopeful about the state of the country.
Many Republicans are angry, too, and hopeful that the country will rebound within a year — but they have very different perspective than Democrats. Republicans largely believe the president’s claims that the virus is “fading away” and that skyrocketing cases are a result of increased testing. The Times/Siena poll shows that expectations for the pandemic break along partisan lines. More than three-quarters of Democrats think the worst is still to come, a view shared by less than a third of Republicans.
Even as cases surge in her home state, Sandra Derleth, 59, of Melbourne Beach, Fla., said she thought the country “overreacted” to the virus in the spring.
“We’re overdoing a lot of precautions,” said Ms. Derleth, who lost her job as an administrative assistant at a local university. “I just feel like with any illness or disease or flu or bug there’s going to be some people that get it.”
“Once fall hits and once Trump gets re-elected and is pushing the economy forward again, maybe we’ll start to see some new jobs coming up,” said Ms. Derleth, who plans to vote for Mr. Trump again in November.
As Americans mark days by death rates, protests and waves of illness, the instability of the moment leaves open the possibility that public opinion could shift before Election Day.
Already, sentiment splits sharply around partisan lines. More than three-quarters of Biden supporters say they feel “angry” at the state of the country right now, the Times/Siena poll shows, while only 47 percent of Mr. Trump backers say they feel the same. Nearly two-thirds of Biden supporters say they feel “scared” about the state of the country, compared to about half as many Trump backers who say the same.
Still, a consensus has emerged around the broad strokes the country must take to combat the pandemic.
Despite double digit unemployment, majorities across demographic groups say the federal government’s priority should be to contain the spread of the virus, even if it hurts the economy. Younger voters and black voters take the most stringent view of the social distancing rules, with more than four in 10 saying the guidance is being lifted too quickly. Only backers of Mr. Trump overwhelmingly believe government should prioritize the economy.
More than three-quarters of registered voters say they always or mostly wear a mask in public when they expect to be within six feet of another person, including 60 percent who support Mr. Trump and 79 percent of those under 30.
Men are more likely to go barefaced. Only 46 percent of men say they always wear a mask, compared with 61 percent of women. The findings confirm academic research suggesting that men are more likely to opt out of wearing masks, believing them to be “not cool” or “a sign of weakness,” even though men are at a higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than women.
In the most heavily impacted states, voters feel even more strongly about taking measures to stop the spread of the virus. A higher percentage of voters in Arizona and Florida, where infections are spiking, say restrictions don’t go far enough and that businesses are reopening too quickly.
Scott Bertoglio, 33, of suburban Phoenix, said he is considering not sending his three young children back to school in the fall because he was worried that the state government has failed to adequately implement rules protecting their health, like mandating mask wearing.
“We’ve essentially been holed up at home,” he said, taking a break from watching a PowerPoint presentation in his home office. “But Arizona is not taking it seriously and the schools are saying we’re going to open.”
Still, the poll shows that voters overwhelmingly believe that any economic pain stemming from the virus will be temporary. Even among those living in a household with coronavirus-related job losses, 81 percent say they expect to find work within the next few months or have already regained it.
Majorities or near majorities in six key swing states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — feel slightly more anxiety about the recovery. Largely facing higher unemployment rates than much of the rest of the country, registered voters in those states say the economy will take a long time to recover once the virus is gone. Still, only about a third of those voters support protests against coronavirus-related restrictions.
The economic and health impacts have fallen disproportionately on voters of color. One-third of black voters and 21 percent of Hispanics say they know someone who has died from the coronavirus, compared with only 16 percent of white voters.
Black and Hispanic voters also take a bleaker view of the country. Only a quarter of black Americans and 34 percent of Hispanics describe themselves as “proud” of the state of America today, a view shared by nearly half of whites. More than eight in 10 black voters say they feel exhausted, compared with 63 percent of whites.
Cherri Hampton, 62, a retiree from Milwaukee, said it was a “sad time” for the country, describing the world as in a state of unrest.
“Right now with Donald Trump being the leader of this country, we’ve got to have a whole lot of prayer,” she said, citing a general lack of respect among Americans.
She said she planned to vote for Mr. Biden, though she wasn’t totally sure how she felt about him.
“We don’t know who we can trust, that’s the bad part,” she said, describing the mentality of much of the black community in her area. “But I trust God. That’s the only thing getting me through this.”