Assessing the Views of Americans During These Uncertain Times

By at 12 August, 2020, 11:56 am


by Raymond J. Keating-

Entrepreneurs and small businesses must understand the true outlook of Americans during this pandemic and tough economic period. And, as most small business owners know, they cannot afford to assume or hope that Americans hold certain views. Entrepreneurs need to look at where the public stands on key matters that affect their businesses and the economy.

Following are some findings from various recent polls that have or will have serious implications for American businesses. While understanding that polls have challenges, such as not being set in stone, margins of error, questions influencing responses, etc., there remains valuable information in the following results that should not be ignored by small business owners when making plans about their businesses now and looking ahead.

A Vaccine and the Workplace: On August 7, Gallup served up some distressing results from a survey about Americans being willing or unwilling to get an FDA-approved vaccine for COVID-19 at no personal cost. Gallup found that while 65% would get vaccinated, a significant 35% would not. Gallup provides further break down by age, location, political affiliation, and so on. Interestingly, Gallup found similar results when polling Americans in 1954 about a polio vaccine. Regarding implications for small business owners, Gallup noted, “Employers continuing to grapple with new workplace realities must also anticipate that a number of their workers may resist a vaccine.”

The Outlook on Air Travel: On August 6, Gallup offered results regarding Americans’ views on air travel. Specifically, Gallup reported that “about half of American adults who flew at least once a year before the pandemic (52%) currently say they would not be comfortable flying. This figure varies significantly by age and political affiliation; most notably, 69% of American air travelers aged 55 and older say they would not be comfortable flying, compared with 33% of those aged 18 to 34.”

The length of travel apparently matters as well: “When asked whether they would currently be comfortable taking flights of various durations, almost half say they would be OK with taking one that lasted less than two hours (44%) or two to three hours (47%). However, this figure drops to just over one-fourth (27%) for flights lasting four to six hours and to about one-fifth (21%) for those longer than six hours.”

Gallup pointed out that different views based on age were “noteworthy given that baby boomers and retirees are important market segments for leisure travel.”

These results obviously have significant implications for those in the airline and travel industries, but also for any businesses that involve a significant degree of travel, raising questions about to what degree video meetings, for example, will continue to replace face-to-face gatherings.

Views on Dining Out: Regarding dining out at restaurants, a Gallup release on August 6 noted a marked difference in willingness based on seating capacity. Specifically, as the percentage of seating capacity declines, the willingness to eat out rises.

Gallup noted that “three in 10 of those who were asked about restaurants that allow 100% capacity said they would be very or somewhat likely to eat there. The figure rises gradually to five in 10 among those who were asked the same question about restaurants that allow 25% capacity.” (See the following chart from Gallup.)

As pointed out by Gallup:

“…in the restaurant industry alone, the pandemic has disrupted a critical source of employment for lower-skilled workers and threatened the existence of many small, local businesses. In creating strategies that help them manage strained resources and increase sales while accounting for customer safety, restaurants need reliable information on Americans’ willingness to return to their establishments — and which are already returning — in order to cater to their needs. Understanding the perceived risks associated with eating out, and the extent to which precautions like limited capacity can alter those perceptions, will be critical for the restaurant industry’s recovery in the coming months.”

General Outlook on COVID-19 Response and Restrictions: On August 6, Pew Research released some poll results that show how cautious Americans generally remain. For example, 69% of Americans said that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted too quickly by state governments versus 30% saying not quickly enough.

Also, in terms of the most effective way to help the U.S. economic recovery, Pew reported that “nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say the more effective way to help the economy recover is by significantly reducing the number of infections, so that more people feel comfortable going to stores, restaurants, schools and other workplaces. Only about a quarter (26%) say the more effective path to recovery is to reopen businesses and schools even if there hasn’t been a significant decline in infections.”

However, there’s more in terms of the reasons identified for the continued outbreak: “While most Americans express concern that states have been too quick to lift COVID-19 restrictions, three-quarters say a major reason the coronavirus outbreak has continued is that too few people are abiding by guidelines about social distancing and mask-wearing. A smaller majority (58%) says that lifting restrictions too quickly in some places is a major reason for the continued outbreak.”

Small Business Confidence

Finally, it’s worth noting here how all of this is playing into the confidence of small business owners. On August 10, CNBC reported that small businesses were feeling more confident, and “adapting operations to the new economic and public health normal as coronavirus cases continue to rise around the county.” However, major challenges persist: “Small business confidence ticked up in the third quarter of the year, to 53 from a record low of 49 in Q2, according to the CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey. Even with the rebound, the confidence reading is the second-lowest score in the survey’s history [which only goes back to 2017, by the way] and eight points off where confidence stood to start the year.”

CNBC also noted, “The operating environment on Main Street has been bleak, even with government loan assistance like the Paycheck Protection Program meant to offer a lifeline to struggling businesses. The House Small Business Committee last month reported 110,000 small businesses had closed permanently and another 7.5 million across the country were facing the same fate.”

However, SBE Council’s Karen Kerrigan also was quoted by CNBC noting that small business owners “see a light at the end of the tunnel,” and “have learned to do more with less. And do more with technology, which has allowed many of them to operate more efficiently to innovate more and think of new ways to serve customers, while also cutting costs.”

Information matters to entrepreneurial survival and success. These and other poll results arguably matter more now than ever – certainly since the Great Recession.

Stay safe, healthy and innovative!

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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