Over the past two weeks, a slew of polling has come out showing that Americans overwhelmingly support the coronavirus lockdown measures throughout much of the country. A recent poll in Massachusetts had 85 percent supporting the extension of restrictions through May 18. Nationally, according to a Forbes poll in late April, 87 percent of Americans favor continuing the lockdown. But cell phone tracking data is telling a different story.
Apple looked at changes in routing requests on its phones and found that beginning in mid-March their users’ mobility began dropping, hitting a nadir of -60 percent of the baseline in April. By May 4, that number had jumped up to -20 percent of the baseline. That’s a 40 percent increase in travel.
A University of Maryland cell tracking study found that between April 24 and May 1, there was a 17 percent drop in people staying home and an 18 percent jump in people taking “non-essential” trips.
So what explains this disconnect between what Americans say they want and what they are actually doing? Why are Americans supportive of government efforts to keep them sealed off at home when they are not obeying the orders? There are several specific reasons this might be the case, but what it really boils down to is human nature.
First of all, the media has presented the argument between staying in lockdown and reopening the country as a moral choice. Those who wish to end the restrictions are presented as cynical and uncaring, and those who support them as willing to make sacrifices to save lives. Given this, it’s not strange that in polling the vast majority claim what they view to be the moral position.
In a 2015 poll, Gallup found that only 6 percent of Americans approve of adultery. Yet the number of Americans who sexually stray in their relationships is well north of that. When asked about the rightness or wrongness of cheating, the answer is overwhelmingly that it is wrong, but when faced with the opportunity, often something different happens.
Speaking of adultery, the rather ironic news broke this week that Neil Fergusson, the scoldiest of the U.K. government scolds insisting that Brits not leave their homes, had his married girlfriend over to his place on two occasions during the strict lockdown. He has since resigned. It is possible Ferguson believed everything he said about the lockdown orders, but as humans are wont to err, he just wasn’t quite able to live up to the standard he set.