WASHINGTON – As students across the country return to school amid the coronavirus pandemic, only one in five Americans say it’s safe right now to reopen schools and universities, according to a new survey.
That is an 11 percentage point increase from the number of Americans who said the same in late-April, according to a survey from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project.
The survey comes as many students have to return to school, colleges and universities. Almost half of the nation’s school districts (49%) will restart schools fully in-person, according to a report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, an education research organization in Washington.
Many college students are also returning back to campus as universities fall semester begins, with some colleges and universities hosting in-person or a hybrid of online and in-person classes. Since then, some sizable student gatherings have spawned COVID-19 outbreaks on campuses nationwide.
Robert Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, said that while there has been an increase in confidence in the past several months, this number is “still a pretty striking.”
“It just says that most people in America just don’t think this is a safe thing to do right now,” Griffin said.
In addition, only one-quarter of Americans with children in the home say they would definitely send their child back to school if restrictions were lifted on the advice of public health officials, according to the Nationscape Insights analysis, a project of Democracy Fund, UCLA and USA TODAY. Twenty-four percent said they would probably do it.
The survey also finds almost 2 out of 3 Americans (61%) also say they strongly or somewhat support closing schools and universities.
The Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project is a large-scale study of the American electorate designed to conduct 500,000 interviews about policies and the presidential candidates during the 2020 election cycle. The poll was conducted Aug. 20 to Aug. 26, with 6,585 Americans surveyed. There is a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
There is also a partisan divide between Republicans, Democrats and Independents with children in the home on confidence in having students return back to school.
When broken down by party, only 11% of Democratic parents say it’s safe to reopen schools and universities now, followed by Independent parents at 15%. Republican parents are more than twice as likely (37%) to say it’s safe to reopen schools and universities now. Among those with children in the home, just 15% of Democrats and 14% of Independents say they would send their child their child back to school if closures were lifted on the advice of public health officials. Nearly 2 out of 5 of Republicans (39%) express the same sentiment.
Among those who say they definitely would send their child to school if restrictions were lifted, 15% of Democrats and 14% of Independents say they would. Nearly 2 out of 5 of Republicans (39%) say they would.
Three quarters of Democratic parents say they strongly or somewhat support closing schools and universities. Comparatively, half of Independent parents and 53% of Republican parents say they strongly or somewhat support that.
Griffin noted while geographic locations, like living in a rural area versus living in an urban area, are likely contribute to a partisan divide, it’s political rhetoric that is possibly impacting people’s perceptions the most.
“They’re people sending them different messages about whether things are safe right now, how the country is dealing with COVID-19, and in some ways how much even to sort of trust what’s happening,” Griffin said.
Contributing: Suzanne Hirt, USA TODAY