Poll: Many in NC still uneasy about going to bars, movie theaters

Posted October 15, 2020 4:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2020 8:38 p.m. EDT

— Bar owners fought for months to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, but even though they are now allowed to serve people outdoors, many North Carolina residents said they still aren't comfortable going there, according to the results of a WRAL News poll released Thursday.

SurveyUSA polled 900 adults across the state between Oct. 8 and Sunday for the exclusive poll, which also found that people remain evenly divided on the pace of reopening businesses and resuming social activities during the pandemic, but many believe schools are reopening too quickly.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Roy Cooper eased restrictions to allow bars to serve a limited number of people in outdoor seating areas, but only 15 percent of those polled said they would feel very comfortable going out to a bar right now. Another 18 percent said they would be "somewhat comfortable," but 36 percent said they wouldn't feel comfortable in that setting. The remaining 30 percent said they didn't go to bars before the pandemic.

Men and younger people are more comfortable with going to a bar now than women and older adults. Politics and income also were dividing lines, with Republicans twice as likely as Democrats to say they were "very comfortable," and people who described themselves as wealthy or upper middle class more more comfortable about going than self-described working class or middle class residents.

Movie theaters also were allowed to reopen at limited capacity under the state's new restrictions, but as with bars, only 15 percent of those polled said they would feel very comfortable going to see a film right now. Nearly half said they would feel uncomfortable, with 20 percent saying they didn't go to theaters before the pandemic.

Even going to a sporting event or concert at a stadium or other outdoor venue under the relaxed restrictions makes people uneasy, according to the poll. Thirty-nine percent said they were uncomfortable, while 42 percent said they were very or somewhat comfortable.

As with bars, men, younger adults, Republicans and wealthier people said they were more comfortable going out to see a movie or an outdoor event than women, older adults, Democrats and working class individuals.

"I feel comfortable going to things like work and school when I need to, but I wouldn't go anywhere with like a huge crowd," North Carolina State University student Jaylan Harrington said.

North Carolinians remain pessimistic about the pandemic, with 39 percent saying it will take a year for life to return to normal and another 17 percent saying it never will. In a WRAL News poll conducted a month ago, the results were 38 and 17 percent, respectively. Ten percent said they expect to return to normalcy within three months, up slightly from 9 percent a month ago, while 19 percent, down from 21 percent previously, say it will take six months.

When asked about the pace of reopening, respondents remain fairly evenly split. Thirty-two percent say the state is moving too quickly, 27 percent too slowly and 33 percent at the right speed. In the previous poll, the numbers were 31 percent too quickly, 29 percent too slowly and 34 percent just right.

"Unless something drastically changes, I think they're kind of split on where we are," said SurveyUSA President Ken Alper. "States that are a little more conservative might be a little bit more, in general, saying things are moving too slowly. Same way in states that are a little bit more liberal. But overall, you guys are right in the middle with things. That's why North Carolina is such a swing state."

Schools reopening is another matter, however, with 43 percent saying the return to classrooms is being rushed. Only 20 percent said the state was moving too slowly to resume in-person instruction, while 24 percent said actions were being taken at the proper pace.

Reopening schools and businesses has been a political hot button in North Carolina and across the country for months, and it even surfaced in a Wednesday night debate between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.

"We need to make sure we get through this pandemic and get our children back safely in the classroom," Cooper said.

"This is not that difficult. We can figure out how to keep a school clean," Forest responded. "Our children are not even at serious risk for coronavirus."

The poll reflects that divide, with Republicans about five times as likely as Democrats to say that the process has been too slow in this state and Democrats twice as likely to say it's been too fast.

"The main takeaway is people feel really strongly about schools, and it makes a lot of sense as opposed to bars, restaurants or movie theaters because, as a parent, you lose control once your child is off at school," Alper said. "Those that are actually having the firsthand experience with the schools, they're more concerned with keeping their kids safe. I think they know that they can regain any learning that might be lost."

Wearing masks in public to limit the spread of the virus also has been a lightning rod for political debate. Only 58 percent of Republicans said masks should be required, compared with 93 percent of Democrats. Overall, 73 percent said masks should be required, with 19 percent saying the state should get rid of its mask mandate.

Rural residents, evangelicals, Latinos and those with only a high school education also were less likely to support the mask mandate.

"I believe it's necessary when you're around a large amount of people for safety," said Steve Brown, of Raleigh.

Still, 87 percent of respondents say they personally wear masks in public. That is down slightly from the 90 percent response in the mid-September WRAL News poll but still much higher than the 65 percent response in an April poll – before Cooper issued the mask mandate.

"It's really not that hard to wear the mask," N.C. State student Austin Dunlow said. "It's become politicized to the point where it's not even an argument about keeping people safe anymore."

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