Poll: Iowans predict COVID economic recovery will take more than a year

Bridge construction continued in downtown Des Moines in late March 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

More than twice as many Iowans say they trust their local governments’ COVID-19 safety information than trust the federal government’s information, a poll by SPPG + Essman Research found. 

The poll taken June 29 through July 2 also found Iowans worrying about a spike in COVID cases this summer, which is happening in places. And most expect the economic recovery from COVID to last more than a year.

The online survey of 928 Iowans was commissioned by the Business Record. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.14 percentage points.

When the poll asked how much confidence respondents have in safety information, 34% were “very” or “somewhat” confident with federal government’s information, compared with 53% for the state government and 71% for local governments.

Asked which individual officials they trust the most with COVID-19 safety issues, 66% said local, state and federal health officials. The next highest level was a tie at 11% between Gov. Kim Reynolds and “don’t trust any of the officials.” Local mayors came in at 3% and President Donald Trump at 2%. The  remaining 7% was divided among people who support officials of their own party and those who don’t know who they trust the most.

The poll found 81% said they were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about a summer spike in cases. 

Iowa has gained COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Some counties have seen few new cases while others, including Polk, home to the state capital of Des Moines, have seen sharp increases as the governor allowed businesses to reopen with some restrictions.

As of Monday afternoon, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting Iowa had logged 42,555 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak started, amounting to 1 of 74 Iowans. 

The rolling 14-day average shows the state was averaging 5,082 cases when the poll was taken. That average jumped to 6,619 cases as of July 17, an increase of 30%. The average then fell to 5,524 as of Monday, still 8.7% more than when the survey started.

The rolling 14-day average on Monday was up 759% since April 1, when it stood at 643 a few weeks after the pandemic took off in Iowa. 

More than three-fourths of poll respondents, 79%, said they wear a face covering in public.

The survey showed widespread concerns about how to safely reopen businesses. The largest share, 36% of respondents said they were working from home, while the next biggest segment, those still working at their business outside the home, came in at 23%.

Plans for returning to the office or business were all over the map, with 14% saying they would go back when staff members were confident they would be safe. Another 14% had already returned to the, and another 14% said they didn’t have a time frame. Of the remainder, 22% expected to wait a month or two to go back. 

Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said in an interview the Partnership’s 42 employees have been given the choice of working at home through Labor Day, and that may be extended through the fall. Typically, 10% to 20% of the staff is working in the office, he said.

Byers said it is hard to predict when most businesses will return to full office operations. When they do, they are likely to move to office arrangements that separate people, the opposite of what was happening pre-COVID. And many employers will be more flexible about allowing people to work remotely.

For now, the Partnership, a regional community and economic development organization, is strongly encouraging people to wear masks and wash their hands, and hoping that vaccines are approved soon, Byers said.

“One of the things our region has done a good job of is managing, and not just waiting for a vaccine,” Byers said. “Rankings have said we are well-positioned for recovery because we have a high percentage of educated residents, low population density and a broad diversity of businesses.”

The Business Record poll showed that while state officials advised the elderly and those with health conditions to stay home, those ages 18 through 34 made up the largest share of those working from their residence, 36%. Yet that group only made up 13% of respondents.

Once things begin to reopen more, many Iowans appear to be skittish about returning to normal schedules. More than two-thirds said they would not be comfortable attending an outdoor sports event or traveling on a plane in the next 12 months. And 63% said they would hesitate to go to a movie theater or to a gym. More than half, 54%, said it would as much as six months before they returned to their normal spending habits.

The poll also showed that 67% of respondents expect the Iowa economy to take more than a year to recover from the pandemic. 

The findings track with the latest Iowa Business Council survey of its members, who run the state’s largest businesses. The overall index rose to 41.25 from 37.5 the previous quarter. Anything under 50 is negative toward growth.

“That gives us little glimmers of hope and optimism as we move forward,” said Joe Murphy, council executive director. Murphy noted that the governor’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board is one sign of the state’s effort to build an economy that was stronger than before the pandemic.

“The goal is not only to get back to the economic conditions of March 1, but to get back to that point and beyond,” Murphy said. “We fully expect to come out of this stronger than before.” 

The Greater Des Moines Partnership has a web page with key recovery resources, and results of an earlier survey. The Ames Chamber of Commerce also has a recovery guide

Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.