When Restrictions Lift, What Will People Do First? Hug Family, See Friends and Dine Out

A new open-ended poll asks adults the first thing they’ll do when stay-at-home policies lift
For 22 percent of U.S. adults, seeing family, friends and hugging loved ones is the first thing they'd do "when stay-at-home orders are lifted" and the economy in their state is "fully opened." (Getty Images)
May 13, 2020 at 5:38 pm UTC

“Go fishing with my brother-in-law.”

“Go see my new granddaughter.”

“I want to go see my grandmother in the nursing home. It has already been two months since I was last able to see her and her health is declining because of it.”

“Hug a person.”

Coronavirus continues to have a detrimental impact on the U.S. economy. Unemployment is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. Consumer confidence has plummeted in all 50 states.

But the pandemic has also had a crippling effect on our mental health, with many of us isolated indoors without the ability to see or touch our family and friends.

That sentiment is reflected in recent Morning Consult polling.

When prompted with the question, “What is the first thing you will do when stay-at-home orders are lifted and the economy in your state is fully opened?” and given the opportunity to provide any response, roughly 1 in 5 U.S. adults (22 percent) wrote about visiting family, spending time with friends and hugging loved ones.

Being close to those we care about was the No. 1 response mentioned in the May 5-8 survey.

As of May 13, 26 states and the District of Columbia are under stay-at-home orders, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis; 15 of those states have begun easing back social distancing measures.

The survey answers underline research that links social isolation and loneliness to both poor mental and physical health. Forty-four percent of respondents in an April 29-30 survey said their day-to-day life has gotten worse amid the pandemic, and 33 percent said the same of their mental health. 

The poll bears good news for restaurants: The public is hungry to eat out again. Nineteen percent of U.S. adults wrote something about dining out or saddling up at their local watering hole to drink the past few months away.

It’d be a welcome infusion of cash for the struggling industry. Restaurants’ year-over-year revenue was down 68 percent in late March, its lowest point in 2020, according to data from marketing and CRM software company Womply, but it is slowly ticking up as some states relax restrictions. Year-over-year revenue for bars slipped by 94 percent in mid-April.

Another 8 percent said they can’t wait to go shopping (“I would go out and buy everything”), and 6 percent wrote that they’re unhappy with their quarantine hairdo and need to see a barber (“Get my hair cut!”) or have access to another beauty service (“Go to the mall get my eyebrows done”).

The results also showed that a notable share of the public is still cautious about returning to “normal” life, even if their states relax shelter-in-place mandates. Given the option to write anything, 14 percent of U.S. adults said “nothing,” suggesting they will continue to follow social distancing even as local authorities give the all-clear signal and economies start to open up.

Roughly half of registered voters believe the country is opening up too quickly, according to May 8-10 polling from Morning Consult and Politico.

Political divides were reflected in recent data that gauged comfort level in returning to leisure activities: Of those who said they’ll continue to stay at home even after shelter-in-place restrictions lift, most identified as Democrat (39 percent) or independent (38 percent). Twenty-two percent of those who said they’d remain in their homes were Republican. 

Cooped up indoors, many individuals wrote that the first thing they’ll do when restrictions lift is go outside and get some fresh air, suggesting the nation could experience a nature-related renaissance in the coming months — coupled perhaps with intentional distancing from the screens that have kept many of us occupied amid the pandemic.

Six percent of respondents also mentioned something about taking a vacation but, notably, most spoke of driving (“Take a road trip”) or traveling domestically, as opposed to taking a flight outside of the country.

A headshot photograph of Joanna Piacenza
Joanna Piacenza
Head of Industry Analysis

Joanna Piacenza leads Industry Analysis at Morning Consult. Prior to joining Morning Consult, she was an editor at the Public Religion Research Institute, conducting research at the intersection of religion, culture and public policy. Joanna graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications and holds a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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