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Most Americans say they really are social distancing

Most Americans say they’re avoiding public spaces and gatherings of all sizes, Gallup found.

A nearly empty Fulton Street Station in New York City on March 17, 2020.
A nearly empty Fulton Street Station in New York City on March 17, 2020.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Americans really are practicing social distancing — staying home and avoiding gatherings, from big public events to meetings with family and friends — in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data from Gallup.

Based on polling conducted March 20 to 22, 72 percent of US adults say they are avoiding “public spaces, such as stores or restaurants.” That’s more than double the rate from one week prior, when 30 percent of Americans said they were avoiding such spaces, Gallup found.

The great majority of Americans also said they’re avoiding events with large crowds, public transportation, and even small gatherings with family or friends. Here are Gallup’s full findings, broken down week by week:

Christina Animashaun/Vox

“These shifts are notable because they suggest that the unprecedented efforts by federal, state, local, and private-sector leaders to get the public’s attention — a combination of formal closures of transportation, schools, and workplaces, as well as public appeals for voluntary efforts — are working,” Lydia Saad wrote for Gallup.

There doesn’t seem to be a big difference in how age groups are handling the coronavirus pandemic, despite the concerns of some public health officials and experts that young people aren’t doing enough. About 72 percent of people ages 18 to 29 said they’re avoiding small gatherings, compared with 69 percent of people ages 30 to 59 and 67 percent of people ages 60 and older.

Women are doing a better job than men, though, with 73 percent of women avoiding small gatherings compared with 64 percent of men.

There’s also a partisan divide: About 78 percent of Democrats told Gallup they’re avoiding small gatherings, while just 56 percent of Republicans said the same.

Overall, 4 percent of respondents said that they “did not make any attempt to isolate [themselves] from people outside [their] household” from March 20 to 22, compared with 11 percent in the prior report, which was based on interviews from March 16 to 19. Nearly two-thirds of Americans said they’re mostly or completely isolating themselves, with “very little” to “no contact” outside their households.

The majority of Americans — 58 percent — also said that they’re “very likely” to comply with public health officials’ recommendations to stay home for a month in response to a serious coronavirus outbreak, up from 41 percent a week before.

The findings are based on polling conducted over the internet with the Gallup Panel, which looks at Americans 18 and over and tracks their shifting attitudes on an array of issues more regularly than other surveys.

Overall, the findings suggest that Americans are increasingly taking social distancing seriously. The question now is whether the trend will continue as some government officials, including President Donald Trump, begin to walk back social distancing guidances against the advice of experts.

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