Public health officials have asked Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving this year. And despite the busy airports this past weekend, most people plan to follow her advice. This comes from a large poll asking Americans about their vacation plans.
The map shows the geographic differences in these plans, and there are also partisan splits. But even among Republicans, two-thirds forego a large traditional harvest festival.
Our data comes from interviews conducted by the global data and survey firm Dynata at the request of the New York Times. The company posted a question about Thanksgiving plans and received more than 150,000 survey responses November 13-23. This was enough data to provide estimates that are more detailed than at the country level.
Nationwide, the survey found that only around 27 percent of Americans plan to dine with people outside of their household. That number is roughly in line with the results of several smaller polls, including those by YouGov, the Covid States Project, and researchers at Ohio State University, where fewer than a third of Americans plan to party in groups.
It also agrees with the results of a separate informal Times poll of epidemiologists. Of 635 public health experts, only around 21 percent planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside of their household. The two surveys, among ordinary Americans and among epidemiologists, used identical questions.
Americans and a large poll of epidemiologists gave similar answers: most said they wouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside of their household.
Proportion of people who eat Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their home
But as the map shows, there are significant regional variations in Thanksgiving plans, with people in some parts of the country being much more likely to hang out with others. For example, in parts of Vermont, only about 14 percent of households party with people outside their home. In parts of Missouri, more than half of the population plan to do so.
Public health officials are concerned about Thanksgiving celebrations as coronavirus cases hit record highs in many regions of the country. Traditional holiday celebrations with long meals indoors and some typical trips could lead to more cases of illness, mainly spread through droplets and aerosols that can linger in unventilated indoor spaces. Last week, a number of federal and state health officials urged Americans to skip such plans and stay home for the vacation.
The party’s identification seems to explain a lot of the differences in Thanksgiving plans.
Proportion of people who eat Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their home, by political party
As in a similar survey on wearing summer masks, partiality seems to explain a lot of the regional differences in Thanksgiving plans. Overall, respondents who identified themselves as members of the libertarian, green, or republican parties were more likely to plan a multi-household harvest festival than Democrats or those who do not belong to any political party.
States that President Trump won in this month’s election generally had a higher rate of multi-household Thanksgiving scheduled than states that Joe Biden won.
Americans who live in states that President Trump won in 2020 were, on average, more likely to say they wanted to throw Thanksgiving with people outside of their household.
Proportion of people who eat Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their home, by state
Won by Biden
Won by Trump
Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, the state with the lowest proportion of scheduled Thanksgiving holidays for mixed households in the survey, said he and other officials worked hard during the pandemic to ensure that scientists, not politicians, convey public health messages. But he and his wife Trudi Inslee had a “fireplace chat” about Thanksgiving last week, highlighting the family traditions that they will forego this year. Coronavirus cases are increasing in Washington and the state has put new trade restrictions in place, but the number of cases there remains lower than many other parts of the country. Mr Inslee said he was pleased to see people in his state avoid grand Thanksgiving celebrations.
“We can crow now, we’re the most grateful state in the nation now,” he said. “We are grateful to our loved ones that we want to stay alive for the next Thanksgiving.”
At the start of the pandemic, there was minimal partisan divide over public health advice, said Samara Klar, associate professor of political science at the University of Arizona. However, she noted that differing messages from Republican and Democratic leaders are reflected in divisions in support of public health policies and the wearing of masks. Thanksgiving plans seem to fit this broader pattern.
“There’s nothing about Republicans to make them less concerned or Democrats to panic them,” she said. “But when you have a problem that people don’t know much about, people will sensibly look to their executives for clues, and that’s why we see a gap.”
Her research has shown that partisan divisions tend to tighten in coronavirus precautions in areas most affected by the virus.
There is evidence that recent dire warnings from public health officials are affecting Americans’ vacation plans. Our survey began collecting responses on November 13th. After November 19, when officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged people to stay home for the holidays and the White House coronavirus task force recommended avoiding indoor gatherings, there was so Many Americans planning to party with people outside their household fell from about 28 percent to about 25 percent, although the number has recovered somewhat.
Most of this shift has been among Republicans, who may be better positioned than Democrats to change White House advice. Democrats tended to say they are more cautious about coronavirus risks during the pandemic.
The November 19 CDC announcement urging Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving may have had little impact.
Proportion of people who say they eat Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their home, according to survey response date
There are reasons to suspect that more Americans will join Thanksgiving than these studies suggest. In general, people who take surveys are often reluctant to admit behavior that may be deemed undesirable. And the pandemic has made the notion of a “household” more flexible for many families who have let neighbors, friends or relatives into their “bubbles” to expand their social interactions while limiting their risk of Covid. Airports have been busier this week than ever since the pandemic became a national emergency, although the peak flight on Sunday was still only half the normal vacation numbers.
The Ohio State University poll found that only 21 percent of adults said they partied with people outside their home. However, another question found that around 38 percent of people wanted to party in groups of more than 10 people. The discrepancy is too large to be explained by the small number of large households in the country.
Iahn Gonsenhauser, one of the co-authors of this survey, said he feared the answers to the household question could be colored by a combination of embarrassment and a flexible definition of households. But he still said it was noteworthy that most respondents took the public health messages to heart.
“It’s so easy to find people who are not following the guidelines or who are currently adamant about the guidelines or recommendations,” said Dr. Gonsenhauser, the director of quality and patient safety at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “This is a much louder message right now than the message from people just saying that this is not a good idea right now and I’m not doing a personal Thanksgiving.”