When Will Consumers Feel Safe? Weekly Updates on Consumers’ Comfort Level With Various Pastimes

Sept. 14 update: Gap in comfort between millennials and baby boomers re-opens for a few activities

Getty Images / Morning Consult Illustration by Samantha Elbouez
September 14, 2020 at 4:10 pm ET
  • 34% of U.S. adults said they are comfortable dining out right now, including 51% of Republicans and 21% of Democrats.

  • The share of Republicans and baby boomers who are currently comfortable going to movie theaters has dropped.

Updated: Sept. 14, 2020

When Morning Consult first began tracking consumer comfort levels during lockdowns, adults in the United States were steadily growing more confident that they would be able to safely return to public spaces in the near future. 

But now, as summer ends, an analysis of trend data shows that after a brief downturn in comfort levels, the public’s attitudes have not budged significantly for 12 weeks — a warning sign for many consumer-facing brands hoping that some customer habits would return to pre-pandemic normalcy over the course of the summer. 

One notable change can be seen between millennials and baby boomers. In early August, statistically significant differences between generations started to emerge for the first time, with millennials more likely than older adults to be comfortable with nearly every activity listed in the poll. In late August and early September, that gap began to shrink on many activities but reopened in mid-September with regard to going to gyms, amusement parks and concerts.

Since the early weeks of Morning Consult’s consumer comfort level tracking, which began in early April, respondents have nearly always expressed the most safety in eating out at restaurants, reaching a high of 41 percent in late May. 

As of mid-September, 34 percent of adults said they feel comfortable eating at a restaurant, around the same share who said so through August, as New York City prepares to restart indoor dining at 25 percent capacity on Sept. 30.

By mid-June, consumers’ comfort levels with activities such as going to an amusement park or a shopping mall were on the upswing, with the share of people expressing safety doubling in many cases since late April, when Morning Consult first began tracking. But as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases began to surge in the latter half of June, consumers became less comfortable with returning to leisure activities and have reported little change in their opinions since.

On average, Republicans are over twice as likely as Democrats to say they feel safe doing the activities listed in the chart above, a gap that showed signs of closing in mid-August but has since steadied or re-emerged slightly week to week.

Comfort levels among Republicans dipped in mid-July, despite President Donald Trump’s casting doubt on the seriousness of the pandemic at that time, but then leveled out through August.

As of mid-September, GOP adults’ comfort with most activities remained stagnant, with the exception of one: going to the movies, which experienced a drop of 5 percentage points from 29 percent to 24 percent.

Comfort levels among Democrats have also evened out this month, showing change only with regard to going out to eat as of the latest survey, when 21 percent said they would feel comfortable doing so, down from 25 percent who said the same in early September.

The partisan gap could spell trouble for businesses located in Democratic-leaning areas, such as along the coasts or in major cities, with Democrats less comfortable with venturing out.

In asking consumers to predict when they will feel safe returning to leisure activities, Morning Consult measured a similar increase in consumer comfort with doing most activities through mid-June, followed by a plateau or drop.

These trend results are bad news for several already struggling industries, including amusement parks, concert venues and international travel: More than 2 in 5 U.S. adults said they won’t feel safe going to an amusement park, a concert or traveling abroad until 2021.

Morning Consult’s week-to-week data on consumer comfort levels: April 7-9; April 29-30; May 5-8; May 12-15; May 21-25; May 26-29; June 2-5; June 5-7; June 9-11; June 12-14; June 23-26; June 30-July 3; July 7-9; July 14-16; July 20-22; July 29-Aug. 2; Aug. 4-7; Aug. 14-17; Aug. 21-23; Aug 28-31; Sept. 2-6; and Sept. 10-13.

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