If you’re getting your information from a cursory consumption of the news, from conservative media, or from President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, it’s easy to form an impression of public opinion on social-distancing measures: The country is deeply split between Republicans, who want to reopen the country, and Democrats, who want to keep things closed. More specifically, it’s split between well-off cultural elites, who are happy to cool their heels in their well-appointed houses and do their white-collar jobs over Zoom or to cower behind face masks, and salt-of-the-earth blue-collar workers who have the courage and can-do spirit to go out and get their jobs done.
This impression is easy—and very wrong. As I’ve previously written, the American public is astonishingly united in its support for caution in the face of pandemic, despite the existing partisan divide, and despite the efforts of Trump and others to inflame it—though the most recent polling shows some indications of growing partisan splits. Americans are also consistent in their views across regions and states, defying the typical partisan geography of the nation.
But there are real differences of opinion, and what they show is not partisan or geographic disagreements, but a class war over social distancing. Poor and working-class Americans are most likely to be suffering from quarantine measures, but they are also the people most likely to support lockdowns. Meanwhile, opposition is concentrated more among people who are less likely to have lost their job or been furloughed.