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U.S. Emotions Mixed After a Tense Month of COVID-19 Response

U.S. Emotions Mixed After a Tense Month of COVID-19 Response

Story Highlights

  • Most experience happiness and enjoyment, but also stress and worry
  • Democrats report greater levels of negative emotions than Republicans
  • Negative emotions more prevalent in low-income households

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Amid this unprecedented disruption in U.S. society, Americans are experiencing a mix of positive and negative emotions. Majorities of Americans report that they felt happiness and enjoyment, but also stress and worry, when asked about the feelings they experienced the previous day.

Americans' Reports of Various Emotions in Late March 2020
Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?
National adults
Happiness 67
Enjoyment 61
Stress 60
Worry 58
Boredom 45
Sadness 32
Anger 24
Loneliness 24
Gallup Panel, March 24-29, 2020

These data are from a probability-based Gallup Panel survey conducted online March 24-29. During this polling period, the U.S. surpassed all other countries in confirmed cases of COVID-19; President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package to respond to the health crisis; and more U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia issued stay-at-home directives.

With many Americans at home, nearly half report experiencing boredom (45%). About one in three are experiencing sadness (32%), and about one in four experience anger (24%) or loneliness (24%).

Americans' responses don't indicate how their emotions have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, but serve as a key baseline of the public's psyche after a month of escalating response to the virus -- by the U.S. government, employers and Americans themselves -- and how their emotions may evolve going forward.

Gallup found that emotions were stable between the first half of the polling period, March 24-26, and the latter half of the period, March 27-29. However, reports of boredom did rise between the two periods, from 41% in the first half of polling to 49% in the second half. This rise in boredom may be the effect of people having the weekend off with fewer outlets to entertain themselves, but it could also be the result of more people being confined to their homes as more state and local governments impose restrictions.

Reports of Negative Emotions Much Higher Among Democrats Than Republicans

Political party identification is the most significant factor in people's reports on the range of emotions they experienced the previous day. In many cases, reports of experiencing certain emotions were highest, or lowest, among Democrats or Republicans compared with any other demographic or attitudinal subgroup Gallup measured.

Gallup found in mid-March that U.S. Democrats were markedly more worried than Republicans that they or someone in their family could be exposed to COVID-19. Currently, Democrats report experiencing worry (70%) at a higher rate than any other subgroup Gallup measures, while Republicans are the least worried of any group (44%).

Similarly, Democrats (28%) are much more likely to say they are angry, while Republicans (18%) are least likely to say this. Republicans are also the least likely to experience sadness (23%), but they are the most likely to experience the positive emotions of happiness (78%) and enjoyment (70%).

Similar proportions of Democrats (45%) and Republicans (42%) report experiencing boredom. Independents fall somewhere between Republicans and Democrats in their reports of most emotions.

Reports of Emotions in Late March, by Political Party Identification Group
Democrats Independents Republicans
% % %
Happiness 61 66 78
Enjoyment 55 61 70
Stress 67 64 48
Worry 70 58 44
Boredom 45 48 42
Sadness 39 33 23
Anger 28 27 18
Loneliness 27 27 17
Gallup Panel, March 24-29, 2020

Negative Emotions Generally Higher Among Low-Income Households

While majorities of people across income brackets report experiencing happiness and enjoyment, lower-income households experience these positive emotions least.

Lower-income households are the most likely of the three income groups to experience loneliness and sadness, and they are the only income group in which a majority report experiencing boredom.

Differences are smaller among the income groups on measures of stress and worry, which majorities of all income groups report experiencing. Roughly one in four people in each group experience anger.

Gallup has previously found that Americans in low-income households are more likely to experience negative emotions, like worry and stress. These emotions could be exacerbated by the health crisis, however, as low-income employees in the U.S. have been disproportionately affected by the crisis at work.

Reports of Emotions in Late March, by Income Group
Household income less than $36,000 Household income $36,000-<$90,000 Household income $90,000+
% % %
Happiness 59 68 70
Enjoyment 52 62 63
Stress 62 57 64
Worry 64 55 60
Boredom 52 47 41
Sadness 45 31 28
Anger 28 24 23
Loneliness 41 23 18
Gallup Panel, March 24-29, 2020

Lower Levels of Loneliness Reported Among Married Adults in the U.S.

Married Americans report greater levels of the positive emotions of happiness and enjoyment than do unmarried adults.

Married adults are also less likely to report experiencing boredom -- and less than half as likely as unmarried Americans to report experiencing loneliness.

Reports of Emotions in Late March, by Marital Status
Married Unmarried
% %
Happiness 72 62
Enjoyment 65 56
Stress 58 63
Worry 57 60
Boredom 40 51
Sadness 30 36
Anger 23 26
Loneliness 15 38
Gallup Panel, March 24-29, 2020

Higher Levels of Happiness -- but Also Stress -- Among Parents

Parents of children younger than 18 are among the groups reporting the highest levels of happiness Gallup has measured, and more so than adults who are not parents of minor children. Parents also report lower levels of loneliness than nonparents.

But parents of minor children also experience greater levels of stress and worry than do Americans who don't have minor children.

Reports of Emotions in Late March: Children Under 18 in Household vs. No Minor Children
Parents of children under 18 Not parents of children under 18
% %
Happiness 76 64
Enjoyment 64 59
Stress 68 58
Worry 64 56
Boredom 40 47
Sadness 29 33
Anger 26 25
Loneliness 17 26
Gallup Panel, March 24-29, 2020

Bottom Line

Most Americans have managed to retain happiness in their lives despite the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but stress and worry are also present for the majority.

The peak in the number of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. has yet to come, and the toll it will take on Americans -- many of whom are confined to their homes -- and their emotions is hard to predict. President Trump has urged that social distancing practices continue nationwide until April 30, and nearly all states by now have stay-at-home restrictions in place.

But a complicated blend of emotions reveals itself in U.S. parents of young children, who are more likely to be stressed and worried but also happier than those without young children.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

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