AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Most Texans are reserved about returning to normal life in Texas, even with some social distancing measures in place.

A poll conducted by Nexstar Media and Emerson College asked Texans how comfortable they feel returning to normal life as businesses across the state begin to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority of Texans who responded said they have not contracted the virus themselves. According to the poll, 20% of Texans answered they have tested positive for COVID-19, or know someone who has, while 80% answered no.

On April 27, Gov. Abbott announced a plan to reopen businesses in phases with some non-essential businesses allowed to operate at 25% capacity as of May 1.  

Reopening businesses

When asked about feeling comfortable in a restaurant “with some spacing precautions,” a majority of Texans in the survey said no. More specifically, 59.9% said no while 40.1% said yes, they would feel comfortable.

Emerson College assistant professor and director of Emerson College Polling Spencer Kimball explained this could result in a slow return to normal, financially, for businesses, even if they were to open at full capacity.

“I think that all kinds of plays into ‘you can open up the economy, but you need the people to show up.’ And that’s going to be, I think, a bit of a drag as things reopen, people are having confidence and feeling comfortable walking into these establishments,” Kimball said.

“It also obviously impacts the economy greatly because in the hospitality industry like restaurants, if you have 60% of people saying they no longer are comfortable going to a restaurant, just think about all of those jobs that aren’t going to be there when this epidemic is over,” Kimball added.

Gov. Abbott’s most recent set of executive orders will allow gyms in Texas to reopen on May 18. In addition to the hygiene, cleaning and spacing requirements, owners of gyms face other challenges.

Many Texans simply do not feel safe going back.

In the survey, 31.7% said yes, they do feel comfortable going back “with some spacing precautions,” while 68.3% said they would not feel comfortable.

Outdoor spaces polled differently than these indoor businesses, however. A total of 57.8% of Texans responded to the poll saying they would feel comfortable going to parks and beaches with social distancing measures in place, while 42.2% said they would not.

Jobs and the economy

When asked if they or someone in their household lost a job, 26% said yes while 74% said no. As a side note, the biggest concern among respondents, 31.6%, was the economy.

The poll also inquired about how Texans feel about returning to work. A total of 36.1% replied stating they would return to work under any circumstances, and 25% answered they were unemployed.

Of the remaining answers, 3.3% stated they would not return to work because they would need to stay home to watch their children; 13.8% stated they would not go back to work because they fear getting COVID-19, or spreading it back home to a family member; 6.5% stated they would not return to work until testing is conducted at their workplace; and 15.5% said they would not return to work unless face masks are worn.

Coronavirus and voting

Most in the survey indicated they will definitely vote in the general election in November. Democrats have pushed for vote-by-mail as a way to conduct the election without spreading coronavirus. Republicans have opposed a widescale expansion of voting by mail, citing the potential for voter fraud.

In the survey, Texans were asked, “For the general election, because of concerns of safety related to coronavirus, would you rather vote in person or vote by mail?” Texans were almost evenly split with a slight preference toward mail-in votes: 48.5% expressed a preference for voting in person while
51.5% would prefer to vote by mail.

Kimball explained the difference based on party affiliation.

“When we start looking at party affiliation, 74% of Democrats want to vote by mail, but only 29% of Republicans want to vote by mail. On the flip side, independents want to vote by mail nearly 57% to 43%,” Kimball said.

The survey also asked Texans to rate the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas. A total of 13.7% responded saying the federal government has helped too much, 41.1% said it has done enough and 45.2% said it has helped too little.

Poll information

The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday via phone and online and its results have a +/- 3.4% margin of error. It surveyed 800 people — 28.7% of whom identified as Democrat, 38.0% of whom identified as Republican and 33.3% of whom said they were Independent or other.

The poll was conducted in the greater metropolitan areas of Austin, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio and El Paso.

The poll also revealed Texans are more enthusiastic about President Trump than Joe Biden and their thoughts about Biden’s running mate and the Tara Reade accusations. It also showed Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval rating is higher than President Trump’s in Texas.

The same poll was also conducted in Ohio and California. According to the Ohio Nexstar/Emerson poll results, Ohioans overwhelmingly approve of Gov. DeWine’s  leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, but are split on President Trump. If the presidential election was held today, a slim majority of Ohioans polled said they would cast their vote for Trump.

Meanwhile, the California poll showed Californians are not ready for things to go back to normal amid the coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump’s overall approval rating is low among Californians who also say they don’t believe the federal government has done enough to help the state during the coronavirus pandemic. When it comes to the presidential election, the poll shows Californians will vote for Democratic candidate Joe Biden but they aren’t very excited about it.