Amanda Vibelius, a stay-at-home mother in rural Arizona, is angry and overwhelmed.
Her father is diabetic, a condition that cost him work because of the coronavirus. As cases skyrocket in her state, she’s nervous about allowing her 11-year-old daughter to join friends at the playground. And she has warned her husband, a doctor, that if he contracts the virus, she will kick him out of the house to quarantine.
But, like a striking number of frustrated Americans, Ms. Vibelius says she is also hopeful. A Republican-turned-independent, who is “leaning more and more Democrat every day,” Ms. Vibelius thinks a rebound may come quickly — as long as President Trump loses in November.
“It took too long to take precautions and it reopened too soon, and that’s why we’re getting these spikes,” she said. The country will come back, she said, “when we get rid of the current administration.”
Nearly six months after the first case of coronavirus reached the United States, a majority of registered voters say they are anxious, exhausted and angry, according to a poll by The New York Times and Siena College. Yet even as they brace themselves for months of challenges from the virus, many remain optimistic about the country’s future, viewing this moment of pandemic, economic devastation and social unrest as an opportunity for progress — one they can help shape.
The poll and follow-up interviews with respondents reveal an electorate acutely attuned to the ways in which the health crisis and economic hardships have seeped into their lives, and to the idea that the political process — and their vote — might improve things. The usual personality contests and ideological showdowns of presidential campaigns have given way to immediate shocks, like losing a job or knowing someone who died from Covid-19, and deciding whether to hold Mr. Trump ultimately responsible.
For other voters, the decision is not so complicated: They are rejecting the president because of his divisive rhetoric and his assault on democratic norms.
The mood of the country has rarely been so enmeshed in the country’s politics. Nearly every four years, politicians try to energize supporters by describing the presidential election as the most important of their lifetime. For once, voters may actually agree.
“As Americans, I mean, for centuries, we’ve overcome things,” said Troy Howard, a general manager from Charlotte, N.C. “And we will overcome this. It’s who we are.”
Mr. Howard said in an interview that he was frustrated about the current state of the country but hopeful about the long run — not least because he thinks Mr. Trump will be beaten in November.
The shift in the national mood has been swift and striking. After years of economic growth, only one-third of poll respondents give the economy positive marks. The virus has become so far-reaching that nearly one in five say they know someone who has died of it — including one-third of African-Americans, who have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Fifty-seven percent of registered voters believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
Families that once debated educational choices now face discussions about whether attending school will even be an option. Once-routine trips to pick up a gallon of milk are loaded with the politics of whether to wear a mask. Protests of police killings have injected new and sometimes difficult discussions about race into daily conversations.
At the same time, most voters describe themselves as optimistic about America. Even as unemployment rates reach some of the highest levels since the Great Depression, more than seven in 10 voters believe economic conditions will be better in a year. Sixty-eight percent of voters say they feel hopeful about the state of the country.
Many Republicans are angry, too, and hopeful that the country will rebound within a year — but they have very different perspective than Democrats. Republicans largely believe the president’s claims that the virus is “fading away” and that skyrocketing cases are a result of increased testing. The Times/Siena poll shows that expectations for the pandemic break along partisan lines. More than three-quarters of Democrats think the worst is still to come, a view shared by less than a third of Republicans.
Even as cases surge in her home state, Sandra Derleth, 59, of Melbourne Beach, Fla., said she thought the country “overreacted” to the virus in the spring.
“We’re overdoing a lot of precautions,” said Ms. Derleth, who lost her job as an administrative assistant at a local university. “I just feel like with any illness or disease or flu or bug there’s going to be some people that get it.”
Florida set a new daily record for single-day coronavirus cases on Saturday, with the total number now exceeding 130,000 in the state.
“Once fall hits and once Trump gets re-elected and is pushing the economy forward again, maybe we’ll start to see some new jobs coming up,” said Ms. Derleth, who plans to vote for Mr. Trump again in November.
As Americans mark days by death rates, protests and waves of illness, the instability of the moment leaves open the possibility that public opinion could shift before Election Day.
Already, sentiment splits sharply around partisan lines. More than three-quarters of Biden supporters say they feel “angry” at the state of the country right now, the Times/Siena poll shows, while only 47 percent of Mr. Trump backers say they feel the same. Nearly two-thirds of Biden supporters say they feel “scared” about the state of the country, compared to about half as many Trump backers who say the same.
Still, a consensus has emerged around the broad strokes the country must take to combat the pandemic.
Despite double digit unemployment, majorities across demographic groups say the federal government’s priority should be to contain the spread of the virus,