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Andy Schnackenberg

Assistant Professor Andrew Schnackenberg

As protests increase across America, it seems the public’s patience with lockdowns is waning

A new survey by the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business finds that Americans—a combined 63%—believe there is a tipping point at which the economic costs outweigh the health benefits if businesses were kept from operating normally for more than three months.

Assistant Professor of Management Andrew Schnackenberg surveyed 388 citizens across the United States using MTurk on the experiences with and perceptions of COVID-19. 

“We’re just a month in and we’re already seeing crowds gather in protest of prolonged social distancing measures and related business closures,” Schnackenberg says. “This study suggests such demonstrations will likely only get worse as the acute social and economic effects of our attempts to fight the spread of COVID-19 are extended.”

A vast majority (87%) believe that tipping point would be reached if businesses were kept from operating normally for more than six months. 

 

Schnackenberg also surveyed respondents on whether or not they had personally contracted COVID-19 or knew of someone in their immediate or extended family who had. The survey found, paradoxically, that those who have had a personal experience with coronavirus were far more likely to believe there is a tipping point at which the economic costs outweigh the health benefits. 

“Perhaps those who have contracted it have experienced its symptoms mildly, encouraging a belief that COVID-19 is not as serious of a public health issue and resulting in a perception that the economic consequences of our collective efforts to fight the virus should be more strongly considered,” Schnackenberg said.

Older adults (those over 50) and Democrats were more likely to prioritize health benefits over economic costs, while Republicans and those who have lost a job due to COVID-19 were more likely to believe a point exists where the economic costs outweigh the health benefits.

 

“As might be expected, those who have lost a job or have been furloughed due to COVID-19 are more likely to say there is a tipping point at which the economic costs of our efforts to combat the virus outweigh the health benefits of saving lives,” he said.

Equally expected is that older individuals, those with a higher mortality risk from contracting COVID-19, are more likely to say there’s no tipping point at which the economic costs of our efforts to combat the virus outweigh the health benefits of saving lives.

“This trend matters because most individuals wielding legislative power in Washington D.C. and those in charge of large corporations are likely above 50 years of age,” Schnackenberg said. “The average age of a CEO in the U.S. has been estimated at 59; the average age of members of the House of Representatives in the U.S. is 58; and the average age of members of the Senate in the U.S. is 62.”

In the survey, respondents were also asked their political affiliation. Of the respondents, 120 identified as Republican and 198 identified as Democrat. Of those who agreed that there was a tipping point at which the economic costs to business outweigh the health benefit, Republicans believed the immediate economic consequences of measures taken to combat COVID-19 should be taken more seriously than Democrats.

Overall, this survey calls into some question the prevailing belief we—the American public—universally agree that business enterprises and economic activity are secondary considerations to combating the spread of COVID-19. Instead, it suggests individuals in the U.S. recognize the moral dilemma confronting them: to throw all available resources towards slowing the spread COVID-19 to save lives at the expense of possibly pushing many out of work and into financial distress, or to effectively chance the lives of fellow citizens at the expense of ensuring a viable economic footing for American workers.

It also shows individuals who have contracted or know of someone in their immediate or extended family believed to have contracted COVID-19 are far more likely to say there is a tipping point at which the economic costs to businesses outweigh the health benefits of slowing the spread of COVID-19, possibly because they are experiencing milder symptoms leading them to believe the virus is not as bad as they thought it would be. Finally, it suggests the possibility that industry leaders and elected officials—those most likely to shape the narrative around CORID-19 and the policies created to fight it—do not see the economic side of the dilemma as a commensurate concern given of their relatively more senior ages.

Assistant Professor Andrew Schnackenberg teaches strategic management at Daniels. He earned his PhD from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University where he was the recipient of the Weatherhead outstanding student research award in 2014. Prior to joining Daniels, Schnackenberg was a faculty member at the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, DC.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.