America the Uncertain: May Briefing Highlights

Key highlights from May's America the Uncertain webinar, a briefing from the Ipsos political polling team on data and trends shaping American politics.

The author(s)

  • Sarah Feldman Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
Get in touch

What you need to know

The country is at an inflection point.  Over half of Americans believe they will be back to their pre-COVID life within the next six months.

  • That’s double what it was in January. 

Nearly two in three Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But news source and partisanship remain stubborn drivers of vaccine hesitancy, with significant minorities reporting they will never get a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Also, with new vaccine authorization for kids and parents, getting both groups inoculated will be important in getting the country closer to herd immunity.

Economic expectations have never been higher-- expectations for the future hit a 19-year high. 

  • This rebound is proving to be unlike any other recession. But one thing remains the same: some people are getting left behind in the recovery.

Partisanship remains a significant cleavage in American society, posing meaningful challenges for the Biden administration. 

  • How well the country is doing and what’s important for the president to address are all sticking points mediated by party identification. 

Deep Dive

America is working towards normal

Nearly 15-months into the pandemic, Americans are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Concern about the pandemic is declining. And, for the first time since the Axios tracker began, over half of Americans report going out to eat as social distancing falls.

Now, over half of Americans (56%) believe that they will return to something like normal within six months, according to the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index. That’s doubled since the end of January when only 26% of people believed that they would get back to something like their pre-COVID life within six months.

America reopening

Vaccination nation

As much of the country gets the vaccine and looks to reopen, another issue is emerging: the vaccine wall. As of early May, a little under one in five Americans say they are definitively not going to get the vaccine.

Partisanship and news source appear to be the strongest drivers of vaccine resistance. Right now, 30% of Republicans and about a quarter (23%) of people whose primary news source is FOX News say they are not at all likely to get any COVID-19 vaccine. A more severe gap emerges among those who don’t consume major news or only use very alternative news sources-- 42% are not at all likely to get a vaccine.

Additionally, with the news that some teens can now get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, getting kids—and parents—vaccinated will be essential in putting the country closer to herd immunity. But, as of now, parents are split on whether they will vaccinate their children. Parents also tend to be more skeptical of the vaccine for themselves, making the road to immunizing their children more complicated.

Vaccine hesitancy

Expectations have never been higher

The robust vaccination campaign combined with a growing sense of safety among Americans pushes economic expectations to a record 19-year high for the Ipsos/Forbes Advisor Consumer Confidence Index.

Consumers' confidence in the economy and their belief in their purchasing power fell during the early days of the pandemic. But, it fell less and rebounded quicker relative to other recessions.

It took about five years for expectations to climb back from the lows of the 2008 financial crisis. Due to the nature of this recession, people’s outlook on the future never grew as dim as it did in 2008.

But, even as Americans grow more hopeful in the economy, the recovery is not spreading equally. Confidence in the economy for lower-income Americans lags behind other groups by significant amounts, building the case that the country is in a K-shaped recovery.

Economic expectations record high

Divided America?

Much like vaccinations and the economy, the story of America today is a divided one. The sense of whether the country is on the right track or wrong track correlates strongly with party identification. For 2020, nearly all Democrats believed the country was going in the wrong direction. As Biden, a Democrat, assumed office from Trump, a Republican, at the start of 2021, Democrats and Republicans across the country flipped on that question, with nearly all Republicans now believing the United States is on the wrong track.

While Americans are increasingly optimistic about getting back to pre-COVID life, the partisan fault lines that plagued the country before and during the pandemic will linger after COVID subsides as well.

Election outcome strongly influences partisan views on economy

Partisan fault lines create weakness for Biden

As the pandemic and the economic fallout associated with it recedes as top concerns for Americans, the road ahead may get bumpy for the Biden administration. Republicans and Democrats don't agree on what the next major issue facing the country is.

For Republicans, immigration has returned as a pressing concern, rebounding to levels last seen before the pandemic, while Democrats see racial inequality as the next major issue.

These fractures could cause Biden’s approval to dip. The president's job performance from the right and left soften somewhat on these problems compared to his performance on the pandemic.

Partisan fault lines creates weakness for Biden


The author(s)

  • Sarah Feldman Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs