Trust in America: Do Americans trust their elections?

Trust in America: Do Americans trust their elections?


The Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol over the certification of the 2020 presidential election was a flashpoint for Americans and the American political system. And it highlighted several key components of a question our researchers have been studying for the last several years: Do Americans trust their elections? Our researchers discuss this moment in the broader context of how Americans view elections, including how trust is impacted by the complexity of the overall system, varying rules on how and when you can vote, and whether the candidate you support wins or loses. 

[Intro] Trust in America, in institutions, in each other, is essential to the functioning of U.S. democracy. Yet today, trust is declining. So what impact does this have on American society? In this episode, Hannah Hartig and Bradley Jones help explain trust in elections and views of the U.S. electoral system.
[Hannah Hartig] On Jan. 6, 2021, a deadly riot broke out at the U.S. Capitol over the certification of the 2020 presidential election. A group of Trump supporters stormed the building over what they thought was a stolen election. This event was a flashpoint for Americans and the American political system. And it’s a culmination of a question we’ve been thinking about for the last several years, which is, “Do Americans trust their elections?”
[Bradley Jones] Right, and one of key things I understand about the U.S. system is just how varied it is across the country, and even within states, because elections are run and administered at a very local level, usually, the county level. And that means that voters, even living in the same state, can experience elections in very different ways. One consistent pattern that we’ve seen is that Americans have more trust in their local system that they’re familiar with. And contributing to that is, surely, the complexity of the overall system when you piece it all together.
[Hannah Hartig] Another way that this dynamic happens in American elections is through vote method. So whether a person cast their ballot in-person or by mail. And that was certainly something that we saw in 2020 as well. Typically, Americans go to polling places and cast their ballot in-person, but some states expanded access to that vote by mail option, in light of the global pandemic. And what you saw was that some Americans weren’t necessarily experienced or familiar with that method of voting. People had slightly less confidence that votes casts by mail would be counted accurately. And another thing that we see is the winning and losing effect on election. So, what we mean by this is that we ask people whether they expect elections will be run and administered well, whether votes will be counted as cast? And we see that voters who supported the losing candidate in a particular election become less likely to say that elections were run well, or that votes were counted accurately. And you see the opposite among voters who supported the winning candidate.
[Bradley Jones] So, this is probably most clear when we look at the 2016 and 2020 elections, and we look at Trump voters. So, ahead of the 2016 election, much like the 2020 election, there was a lot of messaging coming out of the Trump campaign that there were likely gonna be problems with the vote, and that he wouldn’t concede the election, because it must have been fraud if he lost it. And so we saw ahead of both of those elections that Trump’s supporters compared to supporters of the Democratic candidate were substantially less confident in the process. When Trump won the 2016 election, his voters suddenly become much more confident in the process and say the election was run well, compared to what it looked like in 2020, when he lost the election.
[Hannah Hartig] So how partisans evaluate their elections pull in different directions. Democrats think that there are hurdles to the voting process and election rules that make it more difficult for people to cast their ballots. Republicans think that expanding these rules and making it easier to vote would make elections less secure. So those things are naturally at tension with one another, and likely why we’re not gonna see the polarizing aspect of American elections go away anytime soon.
[Bradley Jones] In a lot of ways, these election rules can seem kind of dry, but they’ve really become the focus of partisan conflict in the last few years. Elections are the primary way that we connect politicians to the public, and if faith in the electoral system is eroded, it has incredibly important implications for the overall system.
Trust in America: In the age of COVID-19, do Americans trust science?

Trust in America: In the age of COVID-19, do Americans trust science?




The coronavirus pandemic has put scientists and their work in a public spotlight unlike anything seen in decades. Our researchers discuss how Americans’ confidence in scientists to act in the public’s best interest has changed since the pandemic began and the impact trust has on views of the virus. They also examine some of the reasons why people have or have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and some of the demographic differences in vaccination status.



[Intro] Trust in America, in institutions, in each other is essential to the functioning of U.S. democracy. Yet today, trust is declining. So what impact does this have on American society? In this episode, Cary Funk and Alec Tyson help explain trust in scientists and views of COVID-19 vaccines.
[Cary Funk] The coronavirus pandemic is really at the front of all of our minds. And one of the things it’s done is put scientists and their work really in a public spotlight unlike anything we’ve seen for decades.
[Alec Tyson] We’ve seen that scientists and medical scientists, these are groups that are held in pretty high regard by the public. Large majorities say they have either a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in them to do the right thing to act in the public’s best interest, but we’ve even seen change during the coronavirus outbreak in these views.
[Cary Funk] And what we’re seeing so far is that public confidence has ticked up, but there’s a big caveat to that and that the uptake has not been uniform across Americans. We’re seeing primarily Democrats have a growing sense of confidence in scientists to act in the best interest of the public whereas Republicans have stayed about the same. So as a result of that, what we’re seeing is a growing political divide between Democrats and Republicans over their levels of trust in scientists. Public trust in scientists has been a key indicator of public support, but it’s also something public health experts talk a lot about. And they’re talking about the importance of trust in connection with public acceptance and really adherence to best practices for mitigating the spread of disease. And we’ve seen that in Center surveys as well. We’re seeing that public trust in the vaccine research and development process is going hand in hand with people’s intention to get a coronavirus vaccine.
[Alec Tyson] Our data from August 2021 finds a majority of Americans say they’ve received a vaccine for COVID-19. And there’s more than one factor at play here when it comes to the decision to get vaccinated. Some of the bigger factors are personal concern if you think you’re really worried about getting a bad case of the coronavirus, you’re much more inclined to be vaccinated. Trust in the research and development process, a sense that you believe that the vaccines are safe and effective is highly correlated with the decision to get vaccinated, and there even dynamics around your own personal practices or experiences with other vaccines, namely the common flu shot. If you typically get a flu shot, you’re much more likely to be vaccinated for COVID-19 than folks who don’t typically receive a flu shot. We know that the coronavirus outbreak has had a disproportionate impact on different communities, whether that’s by socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, or by job status. And we do see significant differences across demographic groups when it comes to getting vaccinated for COVID-19. The oldest adults, those 65 and older, they’re at highest risk of a serious case. And they’re much more likely than younger adults to say they’ve received a vaccine for COVID-19. We also see differences by community type. Those living in rural areas are somewhat less likely than those living in suburban or urban areas to say they’ve received a vaccine for the coronavirus. And while earlier in the outbreak, Black Americans were a bit less likely than White or Hispanic Americans to say they had or intended to get a vaccine, we’ve seen a change here. We now find that comparable majorities of Black, White and Hispanic Americans say they’ve received a vaccine for COVID-19, and that’s something that we’ve seen change or evolve over the course of the outbreak. Now one difference that remains as wide as ever is by partisanship. We find that Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say they received a vaccine for COVID-19, and this gap is as big or wider than at any point during the course of the outbreak.
[Cary Funk] What’s really important to keep in mind is how quickly we’ve seen public opinion shift over time, and people’s intention to get a coronavirus vaccine is just one example of that, where we’ve seen really fairly fast moving changes in public opinion. The question going forward is how much does people’s experience with the coronavirus influence how people think about the scientific enterprise generally?

Trust in America: How do Americans view economic inequality?

Trust in America: How do Americans view economic inequality?

From The Pew Research Center

Home Research Topics Economy & Work Income, Wealth & Poverty Economic Inequality

Economic inequality in the U.S. has been rising steadily over the past few decades, and this increase has not gone unnoticed by Americans. In this episode of our Trust in America video series, our researchers explain views of economic inequality and trust in the U.S. economic system. They discuss how Americans feel about the economic system in this country, the impact economic inequality has on people’s lives, and who the public thinks should be responsible for reducing it.



[Intro] Trust in America, in institutions, in each other is essential to the functioning of U.S. democracy. Yet today, trust is declining. So what impact does this have on American society? In this episode, Ruth Igielnik and Rakesh Kochhar help explain trust in the U.S. economic system and views of income inequality.
[Ruth Igielnik] Economic inequality is kind of a complex topic. How would you define economic inequality?
[Rakesh Kochhar] One way to think of it is as the gap in resources that are available to America’s richer and poorer families and whether or not they have the same opportunity for moving up the economic ladder. Suppose that I ranked U.S. families by their income from highest to lowest. In 2019, the incomes of families who ranked the 10th highest on this list was 13 times as much as the income of families who ranked the 10th lowest. This ratio has also been rising steadily since about 1980. Wealth inequality is much more extreme than income inequality, and one reason for that is wealth is something you accumulate over time and you pass it on to your descendants.
[Ruth Igielnik] The increase in inequality certainly has not gone unnoticed by many Americans. When we asked about this, most American said that there was too much economic inequality in the country. We also had about a quarter of American saying there was the right amount of economic inequality in the country. But you know, perhaps not surprising, a majority of Americans said that the economy was helping people who are wealthy and hurting people who are poor and in the middle class. And we also had roughly half of Americans saying that the economy was hurting themselves and their families.
[Rakesh Kochhar] So, it sounds like Americans don’t think the economy is working for all?
[Ruth Igielnik] About seven-in-ten Americans said that they think the economic system is unfair and generally favors powerful special interests. And like many things in our lives today, there’s a pretty big partisan divide on this question with Republicans being more likely than Democrats to say that the system is generally fair.
[Rakesh Kochhar] So this level of awareness is interesting because of the factors that contribute to inequality. People may not be aware of the role played by say globalization, or technological change. But there are some ground level realities they seem aware of. For example, do they have good schooling? What is the state of crime in their neighborhood? Access to healthcare? All of these things affect economic mobility. And so does discrimination in the labor market. And government policies also matter, especially policies that redistribute resources from those at the top of the income ladder to those at the bottom of the income ladder.
[Ruth Igielnik] We asked Americans who say there’s too much economic inequality, how much responsibility different groups should have in reducing economic inequality. And most people said the federal government and big businesses and corporations should have a lot of responsibility. Yes, most of that group says the federal government should have a lot of responsibility in reducing economic inequality, but we also know that trust in the federal government is low. We know that Americans are also very divided when it comes to policies that they think would reduce economic inequality. And with sort of wide and growing polarization in this country, Americans disagree about what the problems are and they disagree about how to solve those problems. So while there is high distrust in the federal government, there’s still an expectation among many Americans that the federal government should help reduce economic inequality.
Trust in America: Do Americans trust the police?

Trust in America: Do Americans trust the police?

From The Pew Research Center

Home Research Topics Politics & Policy Political Issues Criminal Justice Police

The relationship between the public and police across the United States was brought into sharp focus over the course of 2020 and 2021 following the high-profile killings of several Black Americans by police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the worldwide protests that followed. In this episode of our Trust in America video series, our researchers discuss Americans’ trust in police, how views of and experiences with policing vary across political and demographic lines, and how Americans feel about proposals for police reform.

[Intro] Trust in America, in institutions, in each other is essential to the functioning of U.S. democracy. Yet today, trust is declining. So what impact does this have on American society? In this episode, Jocelyn Kiley and Kim Parker help explain trust in police and views of police reforms.
[Jocelyn Kiley] The relationship between the public and police across the country, while not a new issue, was brought into sharp focus over the course of 2020 and 2021. Throughout the summer and fall of 2020, protests around the U.S. put the issue front and center, following the killings of several Black Americans by police, in particular, the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in the spring of 2021. When we look at public opinion on police and policing in our surveys, we find that views of and experiences with policing vary substantially across political and demographic lines.
[Kim Parker] Yes, in November of 2020, we asked American adults how much confidence they have in police to act in the best interests of the public. And what we found was that most said they have at least some confidence, with 26% saying they have a great deal of confidence. There are a few major fault lines that I would point to in looking at these views, and race and ethnicity is one of them. White adults are much more likely than Black or Hispanic adults to say that they have a great deal of confidence in the police. There are also significant differences by age. Young adults are much less trusting of police than middle-aged and older adults. And the views are also deeply divided by party identification. About four-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners have a great deal of confidence in the police, and that compares with only 13% of Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic party.
[Jocelyn Kiley] So we know these differences in attitudes can result from a lot of different dynamics, but one is certainly personal experience.
[Kim Parker] We asked people about some of the different ways they may have been discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity across different realms of life. And one of the things that we asked about was whether they had ever been unfairly stopped by the police. What we found was that almost half of Black adults said that this had happened to them, including about two-thirds of Black men. And by comparison, 19% of Hispanic adults and only 9% of white adults said that this has happened to them. And I think these gaps in experience give us some real insight into why Black adults feel the way they do about the police and also why they might want to see changes in the way that police do their jobs.
[Jocelyn Kiley] So in our summer 2020 survey, we found a broad base of support for a number of proposals about policing. The public overwhelmingly backs requiring training in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force, a federal government database to track misconduct allegations. Those are supported by nine in 10 Americans. Also, wide majorities of Americans support giving civilian oversight boards investigative and disciplinary powers and requiring officers to live in the places they police and making chokeholds or strangleholds a crime. These are all proposals that have come up. And while there are demographic differences, such that Black Americans and Democrats are more likely to support these things and the intensity of support is higher, there is a fair amount of support among white Americans and Republicans for all of these things as well. Even as there are differences in how Americans view police, there are also some areas where, at least in the public at large, there’s common ground. One question is, as proposals for change continue to come up at various levels of government, federal, state, local, how will that manifest in public attitudes?


Trust in America: Do Americans trust the news media?

Trust in America: Do Americans trust the news media?


The news media industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past 10 to 20 years that have impacted the way news is both produced and consumed. Our researchers discuss the effects of these changes on how Americans trust the news media and assess news and information, including the role of partisanship, misinformation and representation.



[Intro] Trust in America, in institutions, in each other is essential to the functioning of U.S. democracy. Yet today, trust is declining. So what impact does this have on American society? In this episode, Katerina Eva Matsa and Lee Rainie help explain trust in the news media and how Americans evaluate news sources.
[Lee Rainie] Trust is declining. Our work shows that people are less trustful of major institutions, including the news media, than they used to be. And your team has documented a lot of this broad change that’s occurred.
[Katerina Eva Matsa] The news media as an industry has undertaken a lot of changes. First, the way people get news today has changed from 10 years ago, from 20 years ago. We’ve seen that online news consumption is up, and it’s at this point even more than television. Second is the news media industry’s business model. We’ve seen that many news organizations are now changing their revenue streams, focusing now more on digital ad revenue. The third element has to do with political identity. We see that the Republicans and Democrats place their loyalty and their trust in very different sources. The fourth development is misinformation. The challenges that Americans are facing, parsing through the news online is in this new environment of misinformation, with a large share of Americans saying that made-up news creates confusion and it’s really a big problem for society.
[Lee Rainie] It’s true that social media now has added an extra layer of complexity to the issues that news consumers and news producers are grappling with. And it almost gets back to the very foundational question. We asked, “Do you trust the news media?” And a lot of people answered “no” to that question, But then, to unpack that idea, and Americans are equally comfortable sort of saying, “Yes, I really like, and I really trust some sources but not others.” And so, in a way, their trust has become disaggregated and divided.
[Katerina Eva Matsa] One of the things that we’ve seen is that idea of personal connection with a journalist or a news organization. We see that that matters. When we ask people whether their media represent them, whether the journalists that they talk to are embedded in the community, that’s where we see big differences in how people evaluate the media. People that say that they’ve talked to a journalist or they see themselves in stories, they’re gonna have more positive things evaluations of the news media.
[Lee Rainie] People have lots of news sources that they trust, but they don’t think that the institution of the news media and the industry of news organizations as a whole is trustworthy. So people tend to go to sources of information that map with their point of view. And we see in our data Americans don’t trust each other the way they used to. They don’t think Americans share the same facts that they used to. And so, the charge to people who are in the thick of this new environment is to figure out how to help people find their way to the truth and not make it a hard job. And Americans couldn’t be clearer about that. They want to know what’s going on, and they want help doing it, and they are looking to journalists to help solve these problems.


Two Years Into the Pandemic, Americans Inch Closer to a New Normal

Two Years Into the Pandemic, Americans Inch Closer to a New Normal



Two Years Into the Pandemic, Americans Inch Closer to a New Normal


Two years after the coronavirus outbreak upended life in the United States, Americans find themselves in an environment that is at once greatly improved and frustratingly familiar.

Around three-quarters of U.S. adults now report being fully vaccinated, a critical safeguard against the worst outcomes of a virus that has claimed the lives of more than 950,000 citizens. Teens and children as young as 5 are now eligible for vaccines. The national unemployment rate has plummeted from nearly 15% in the tumultuous first weeks of the outbreak to around 4% today. A large majority of K-12 parents report that their kids are back to receiving in-person instruction, and other hallmarks of public life, including sporting events and concerts, are again drawing crowds.

How we did this

This Pew Research Center data essay summarizes key public opinion trends and societal shifts as the United States approaches the second anniversary of the coronavirus outbreak. The essay is based on survey data from the Center, data from government agencies, news reports and other sources. Links to the original sources of data – including the field dates, sample sizes and methodologies of surveys conducted by the Center – are included wherever possible. All references to Republicans and Democrats in this analysis include independents who lean toward each party.

The landscape in other ways remains unsettled. The staggering death toll of the virus continues to rise, with nearly as many Americans lost in the pandemic’s second year as in the first, despite the widespread availability of vaccines. The economic recovery has been uneven, with wage gains for many workers offset by the highest inflation rate in four decades and the labor market roiled by the Great Resignation. The nation’s political fractures are reflected in near-daily disputes over mask and vaccine rules. And thorny new societal problems have emerged, including alarming increases in murder and fatal drug overdose rates that may be linked to the upheaval caused by the pandemic.

For the public, the sense of optimism that the country might be turning the corner – evident in surveys shortly after President Joe Biden took office and as vaccines became widely available – has given way to weariness and frustration. A majority of Americans now give Biden negative marks for his handling of the outbreak, and ratings for other government leaders and public health officials have tumbled. Amid these criticisms, a growing share of Americans appear ready to move on to a new normal, even as the exact contours of that new normal are hard to discern.

A year ago, optimism was in the air

President Joe Biden speaks to reporters in the White House Rose Garden in March 2021, a day after signing the $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan into law. An April survey found two-thirds of U.S. adults approved of the economic aid package. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden won the White House in part because the public saw him as more qualified than former President Donald Trump to address the pandemic. In a January 2021 survey, a majority of registered voters said a major reason why Trump lost the election was that his administration did not do a good enough job handling the coronavirus outbreak.

At least initially, Biden inspired more confidence. In February 2021, 56% of Americans said they expected the new administration’s plans and policies to improve the coronavirus situation. By last March, 65% of U.S. adults said they were very or somewhat confident in Biden to handle the public health impact of the coronavirus.

The rapid deployment of vaccines only burnished Biden’s standing. After the new president easily met his goal of distributing 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office, 72% of Americans – including 55% of Republicans – said the administration was doing an excellent or good job overseeing the production and distribution of vaccines. As of this January, majorities in every major demographic group said they had received at least one dose of a vaccine. Most reported being fully vaccinated – defined at the time as having either two Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one Johnson & Johnson – and most fully vaccinated adults said they had received a booster shot, too.

The Biden administration’s early moves on the economy also drew notable public support. Two-thirds of Americans, including around a third of Republicans, approved of the $1.9 trillion aid package Biden signed into law last March, one of several sprawling economic interventions authorized by administrations of both parties in the outbreak’s first year. Amid the wave of government spending, the U.S. economy grew in 2021 at its fastest annual rate since 1984.

Globally, people preferred Biden’s approach to the pandemic over Trump’s. Across 12 countries surveyed in both 2020 and 2021, the median share of adults who said the U.S. was doing a good job responding to the outbreak more than doubled after Biden took office. Even so, people in these countries gave the U.S. lower marks than they gave to Germany, the World Health Organization and other countries and multilateral organizations.

A familiar undercurrent of partisan division

Even if the national mood seemed to be improving last spring, the partisan divides that became so apparent in the first year of the pandemic did not subside. If anything, they intensified and moved into new arenas.

Masks and vaccines remained two of the most high-profile areas of contention. In February 2021, Republicans were only 10 percentage points less likely than Democrats (83% vs. 93%) to say they had worn a face covering in stores or other businesses all or most of the time in the past month. By January of this year, Republicans were 40 points less likely than Democrats to say they had done so (39% vs. 79%), even though new coronavirus cases were at an all-time high.

Republicans were also far less likely than Democrats to be fully vaccinated (60% vs. 85%) and to have received a booster shot (33% vs. 62%) as of January. Not surprisingly, they were much less likely than Democrats to favor vaccination requirements for a variety of activities, including traveling by airplane, attending a sporting event or concert, and eating inside of a restaurant.

Some of the most visible disputes involved policies at K-12 schools, including the factors that administrators should consider when deciding whether to keep classrooms open for in-person instruction. In January, Republican K-12 parents were more likely than Democrats to say a lot of consideration should be given to the possibility that kids will fall behind academically without in-person classes and the possibility that students will have negative emotional consequences if they don’t attend school in person. Democratic parents were far more likely than Republicans to say a lot of consideration should be given to the risks that COVID-19 poses to students and teachers.

A woman shows her support for a Chicago Teachers Union car caravan around City Hall on Jan. 10, 2022. As COVID-19 cases surged, union members were protesting the continuation of in-person learning in city schools without more safeguards in place. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The common thread running through these disagreements is that Republicans remain fundamentally less concerned about the virus than Democrats, despite some notable differences in attitudes and behaviors within each party. In January, almost two-thirds of Republicans (64%) said the coronavirus outbreak has been made a bigger deal than it really is. Most Democrats said the outbreak has either been approached about right (50%) or made a smaller deal than it really is (33%). (All references to Republicans and Democrats include independents who lean toward each party.)

New variants and new problems

The decline in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths that took place last spring and summer was so encouraging that Biden announced in a July 4 speech that the nation was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” But the arrival of two new variants – first delta and then omicron – proved Biden’s assessment premature.

Some 350,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since July 4, including an average of more than 2,500 a day at some points during the recent omicron wave – a number not seen since the first pandemic winter, when vaccines were not widely available. The huge number of deaths has ensured that even more Americans have a personal connection to the tragedy.

A medical assistant walks out of a Dave & Buster’s-turned-COVID-19 testing facility in Houston on Jan. 8, 2022. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The threat of dangerous new variants had always loomed, of course. In February 2021, around half of Americans (51%) said they expected that new variants would lead to a major setback in efforts to contain the disease. But the ferocity of the delta and omicron surges still seemed to take the public aback, particularly when governments began to reimpose restrictions on daily life.

After announcing in May 2021 that vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course during the delta wave and again recommended indoor mask-wearing for those in high-transmission areas. Local governments brought back their own mask mandates. Later, during the omicron wave, some major cities imposed new proof-of-vaccination requirements, while the CDC shortened its recommended isolation period for those who tested positive for the virus but had no symptoms. This latter move was at least partly aimed at addressing widespread worker shortages, including at airlines struggling during the height of the holiday travel season.

Amid these changes, public frustration was mounting. Six-in-ten adults said in January 2022 that the changing guidance about how to slow the spread of the virus had made them feel confused, up from 53% the previous August. More than half said the shifting guidance had made them wonder if public health officials were withholding important information (57%) and made them less confident in these officials’ recommendations (56%). And only half of Americans said public health officials like those at the CDC were doing an excellent or good job responding to the outbreak, down from 60% last August and 79% in the early stages of the pandemic.

Economic concerns, particularly over rising consumer prices, were also clearly on the rise. Around nine-in-ten adults (89%) said in January that prices for food and consumer goods were worse than a year earlier. Around eight-in-ten said the same thing about gasoline prices (82%) and the cost of housing (79%). These assessments were shared across party lines and backed up by government data showing large cost increases for many consumer goods and services.

Overall, only 28% of adults described national economic conditions as excellent or good in January, and a similarly small share (27%) said they expected economic conditions to be better in a year. Strengthening the economy outranked all other issues when Americans were asked what they wanted Biden and Congress to focus on in the year ahead.

Looking at the bigger picture, nearly eight-in-ten Americans (78%) said in January that they were not satisfied with the way things were going in the country.

Imagining the new normal

As the third year of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak approaches, Americans increasingly appear willing to accept pandemic life as the new reality.

Large majorities of adults now say they are comfortable doing a variety of everyday activities, including visiting friends and family inside their home (85%), going to the grocery store (84%), going to a hair salon or barbershop (73%) and eating out in a restaurant (70%). Among those who have been working from home, a growing share say they would be comfortable returning to their office if it were to reopen soon.

With the delta and omicron variants fresh in mind, the public also seems to accept the possibility that regular booster shots may be necessary. In January, nearly two-thirds of adults who had received at least one vaccine dose (64%) said they would be willing to get a booster shot about every six months. The CDC has since published research showing that the effectiveness of boosters began to wane after four months during the omicron wave.

Despite these and other steps toward normalcy, uncertainty abounds in many other aspects of public life.

The pandemic has changed the way millions of Americans do their jobs, raising questions about the future of work. In January, 59% of employed Americans whose job duties could be performed remotely reported that they were still working from home all or most of the time. But unlike earlier in the pandemic, the majority of these workers said they were doing so by choice, not because their workplace was closed or unavailable.

A long-term shift toward remote work could have far-reaching societal implications, some good, some bad. Most of those who transitioned to remote work during the pandemic said in January that the change had made it easier for them to balance their work and personal lives, but most also said it had made them feel less connected to their co-workers.

The shift away from office spaces also could spell trouble for U.S. downtowns and the economies they sustain. An October 2021 survey found a decline in the share of Americans who said they preferred to live in a city and an increase in the share who preferred to live in a suburb. Earlier in 2021, a growing share of Americans said they preferred to live in a community where the houses are larger and farther apart, even if stores, schools and restaurants are farther away.

A tract of hillside homes in Temescal Valley, California, in November 2021. An October survey found that compared with before the pandemic, Americans were more likely to want to live in suburbs and less likely to want to live in urban areas. (George Rose/Getty Images)

When it comes to keeping K-12 schools open, parental concerns about students’ academic progress and their emotional well-being now clearly outweigh concerns about kids and teachers being exposed to COVID-19. But disputes over school mask and vaccine rules have expanded into broader debates about public education, including the role parents should play in their children’s instruction. The Great Resignation has not spared K-12 schools, leaving many districts with shortages of teachers, bus drivers and other employees.

The turmoil in the labor market also could exacerbate long-standing inequities in American society. Among people with lower levels of education, women have left the labor force in greater numbers than men. Personal experiences at work and at home have also varied widely by race, ethnicity and household income level.

Looming over all of this uncertainty is the possibility that new variants of the coronavirus will emerge and undermine any collective sense of progress. Should that occur, will offices, schools and day care providers again close their doors, complicating life for working parents? Will mask and vaccine mandates snap back into force? Will travel restrictions return? Will the economic recovery be interrupted? Will the pandemic remain a leading fault line in U.S. politics, particularly as the nation approaches a key midterm election?

The public, for its part, appears to recognize that a swift return to life as it was before the pandemic is unlikely. Even before the omicron variant tore through the country, a majority of Americans expected that it would be at least a year before their own lives would return to their pre-pandemic normal. That included one-in-five who predicted that their own lives would never get back to the way they were before COVID-19.

Lead photo: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivered Saturday mornings


Shopping Basket

Request for Account