Brunswick data: Americans expect tough post-pandemic economy

Americans expect a bumpy recovery after the pandemic, according to a Brunswick Group poll.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

A majority of Americans expect a rough road between the COVID-19 pandemic and a recovery. To offset the negative economic impact, the American public supports an immediate and direct injection of cash into consumer hands, and more than 60% support government bailouts for the restaurant, retail, hotel, and airline industries.

In order to better understand the rapidly evolving US public opinion landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brunswick Insight conducted a national survey of 800 American voters March 20-23, 2020.

There are three critical findings for business and government leaders.

Americans expect a tough road ahead

Americans have seen the news from around the world, they survived the Great Recession, and they expect difficulty. When asked if the coronavirus will have a short or long term impact on the economy, 67% expect a long term negative impact. Only 22% are expecting a short term impact on the economy.

There are three basic recovery scenarios, the V, the U or the W. Only 20% of Americans expect a rapid, V-like recovery while 38% expect a long, U-shaped, recovery with a longer recovery time. Importantly, 34% of Americans expect a W, described in our survey as "bumpy and unstable, with some promising ups and troubling downs." Given the history of the 1918-19 and 1957-58 influenza, we are focusing on the likelihood of the W scenario.

But, the key insight here is that 67% expect a long term economic hit and 72% expect a difficult road back to recovery. This suggests that the American public is psychologically prepared to endure hardship.

It also suggests that the American consumer will pull back on spending, expecting a difficult economic picture. A more rapid, V-like recovery, is not expected and would be celebrated.

They support creative economic measures

Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of measures that only weeks ago would have been considered fantasy and ideological heresy. But, Americans are, at their core, pragmatists.

In our survey, 78% believed that "the federal government providing direct cash payments to Americans" would be effective in helping people deal with the financial impact of the pandemic. In fact, 36% believed this would be very effective and 42% believed it would be at least somewhat effective.

Americans know firsthand how many jobs and family finances are at risk. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has just issued its analysis of the number of jobs at "high risk" for layoff, and that estimate is 66,786,310, with a concentration in food preparation, sales, production, and installation, maintenance and repair.

Americans are open to pragmatic and creative solutions in an emergency to save jobs and protect their livelihoods.

There is significant support for bailouts

Our research also shows that large majorities of Americans are supportive of industry bailouts; the restaurant industry at 82%, public transit at 76%, the retail industry at 71%, and the hotel and lodging industry (70% support).

Additionally, by 63% to 31%, Americans support a government bailout for the airline industry. Support for bailouts for movie theaters was 58%, banks was at 54%, the automobile industry at 53%, and airplane manufacturers at 51%.

As always, language matters, and support for "providing financial assistance" was marginally stronger than support for a "bailout."

Americans clearly believe we are in a public health and economic emergency. They are psychologically preparing for a challenging road to recovery and they are open to creative and pragmatic solutions.

Robert Moran is a partner at the Brunswick Group, an expert in public opinion research, and the global head of Brunswick Insight.

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