Civil unrest in the United States is having a negative impact on intentions to visit cultural organizations in the immediate near term.
Things are a bit different in the US than they were last Monday…
We’re now in the midst of a global pandemic and also national civil unrest. Perhaps understandably, research from the first few days suggests that people may not be particularly thrilled to leave their homes or venture into cities right now.
We have been tracking intentions to visit cultural organizations for the last twelve weeks. Today we are sharing information collected through May 30th. The research quantifies the US adult public’s intentions to visit 84 unique cultural organizations within the United States – from art museums and aquariums to theaters to symphonies. For the week ranging from May 24-30, the data and analysis summarized below represent an additional sample of 2,133 adults. This means the data was collected between Sunday and Saturday of last week – and protests generally began to intensify on Thursday in select regions and spread across the US from there. Even the first couple of days of unrest were enough to negatively impact the quantified overall one-week and one-month intentions to visit.
For many cultural entities, decreasing one-week intentions to visit may mean relatively little, as most organizations still remain closed. However, it will be critical to watch the numbers and observe how long the unrest – or fear of it – lasts. Our intention is to provide a foundational basis for organizations to thoughtfully respond to current conditions in as fully informed a manner as possible. Racism and a global pandemic are both issues to grapple with right now, and they are understandably impacting intentions to visit. This clinical analysis of the US public’s response to what is irrefutably an American tragedy in no way intends to imply that protests do not make sense, or shouldn’t happen, or are remotely unjustified. Nor does any data or analysis contained herein intend to suggest what should or should not occur in the wake of the unconscionable.
Next week’s data may be all the more important, as it may encompass clues about intentions recovering. For now, let’s dive into the data through May 30.
A brief reminder of what “intent to visit” means, and why it matters right now.
Unlike mere interest in visiting an organization, research shows that intent to visit aligns closely with actual plans and visitation behaviors. Visitors’ stated intentions to visit an organization within a defined duration have historically proven a dependable indicator of actual visitation behaviors, and are a generally reliable gauge of likely attendance.
One’s intent to visit is among the best available metrics for reliably predicting behaviors. It helps us understand people’s plans for future visitation at any given time, and further aligns these intentions to a specific chronology. This metric not only quantifies the strength of intentions to visit an organization but also identifies the duration within which one intends to manifest this intention.
Exhibit and performance-based entities across the nation are closed. Like other enterprises at the moment, their financial strife is making headlines. This interruption of our regular operations begs multiple questions:
When we reopen, will people come back?
When do people think that they’ll come back?
How is the current environment – at this moment – impacting future plans?
And, critically, how is this changing over time as the US public learns more about the virus?
Is it changing at all?
Updated data on intent to visit cultural entities as of May 30th
Historically, May experiences the highest three-month intentions to visit of any other month of the calendar year. This is because the three-month timeframe encompasses the near entirety of summer vacation, and the summertime tends to represent peak visitation period for cultural organizations. We observe intentions begin to rise month over month as the calendar turns to summer.
A good way to think of these scalar values is as a measure of the relative certainty of an intended behavior being actualized. Thus, a value of “1” would indicate no intentions whatsoever to visit an organization, whereas a reported value of “100” would suggest that the respondent was essentially waiting in line for the doors to open.
Please note that the data for 2019 is shown for the end of each month in the 2019 chart. This is not the case for the 2020 chart, which is cut by week starting on March 13th – the date the US declared a national emergency due to the global pandemic. This is what things look like during a non-pandemic year:
Now let’s take a look at 2020. The chart was getting a bit crowded and difficult to read, as we’ve been tracking this metric for 12 weeks now. To that end, we’ve included this week’s metrics, last week for comparison, and then removed every other week. The trendlines are still clearly visible, and we wanted to be a bit kinder to your eyeballs. To see the removed values, see last week’s article.
One-week and one-month intentions to visit cultural organizations have declined. This is likely due to recent civil unrest in the United States.
Last week, intentions to visit within one week had not yet recovered, though they remained stable. This makes sense, as many entities remain closed. This week, one-week intentions have declined. Remember again that we were in-market for seven days (as usual) and civil unrest likely impacted only the last one to three days. Still, it was enough to nationally move the needle on one-week and one-month intentions. This data doesn’t tell a whole story yet because it was cut at a potential height and/or newness of the unrest. Sit tight. We’ll have a better understanding of things next week.
One-month intentions to visit have also declined. Generally, many people still do intend to visit cultural organizations in the next month. However, these intentions have decreased slightly and are further from recovering to last year’s value of 16. While that may not sound like a big difference, even a movement of one in these scalar variables is statistically significant. Indeed, it takes a lot to move this needle.
Three-month intentions match historically observed levels for the end of May. We’re okay here for the time being. This may suggest that people anticipate the civil unrest to have resolved itself enough to feel safe visiting cultural organizations – and for us to have learned how to live safely alongside COVID-19 – within the next three months. However, demand for certain cultural experiences (i.e. zoo vs. theater performance) is being redistributed and making people feel safe may be a prerequisite for securing a visit.
Updated variance by region
In the charts below, we’ve shared data for many of the most populated geographic areas in the United States. Since commencing research concerning the impacts of COVID-19, our data collection processes have endeavored to be representative of the United States. Thus, as a function of representative data collection, we currently have collected more samples from more populated states and regions.
In many cases, we’ve also grouped states together by both their geographic proximity and attitudinal similarity. For example, surveyed respondents in California, Oregon, and Washington indicate similar intentions to visit cultural entities; thus, they have been collectively aggregated and defined as a unique cohort. Where attitudinal variances have been observed within a region, this region has been accordingly segmented. We gathered enough data to start including the combined region of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas last week. We’ll start by looking at one-month and three-month intentions, before diving into one-week intentions.
Again, it’s helpful to start with a look at intentions to visit by region at the end of May 2019 for comparative context.
As you can see, some regions indicate different levels of intentions to visit even during a non-pandemic timeframe. This makes sense. Not every region has equal access and/or interest in cultural organizations. We frequently observe that regions with greater densities – both in terms of population and cultural enterprise – have higher near-term intentions to visit a cultural organization. This is logical, as it takes a lot less time to plan a visit to an organization across the street than one that is a road trip or airplane flight away. This is also why the time between the decision to attend and when one actually walks through the door (“lead time to visit”) very often correlates with how close someone lives to the organization.
Here’s where things stood this last Saturday, May 30th, 2020:
Though still relatively high, intentions to visit within one month had not yet fully recovered to their value for the same time last year as of last week. As discussed, one-month intentions to visit cultural entities took a step back this week.
One-month intentions to visit for residents in the combined region of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas decreased from a value of 15 to a value of 14. (We have only two weeks’ worth of data for this region thus far, so we’re writing out the change instead of adding it to this chart. There are a lot of things to worry about right now. Straining your eyeballs more than we already are need not be one of them.)
It is likely that civil unrest is driving this decrease in intentions to visit, as the change can be seen on a national level. National peaks and valleys in intent to visit tend to correlate with (1) seasonality of attendance – summertime tends to see higher intent to visit on a national level as school is out, etc. – and (2) national occurrences interrupting plans. Because 2020 is a true gift that keeps on giving, both the global pandemic and civil unrest that we are experiencing fall into the second category. As a point of reference for perspective, intentions to visit institutions in Baltimore dropped dramatically in the wake of the 2015 unrest related to the death of Freddie Gray. These intentions took fully two months to recover in Baltimore proper, the major metropolitan area whose citizens were most directly impacted. However, the recovery was far more rapid in relatively proximate areas such as Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, PA.
Now let’s look at three-month intentions to visit. This metric is not currently impacted – people indicate intent to resume their more normal visitation patterns within three months with the caveat that we are able to evolve operations to make them feel safe.
For Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas readers: Intent to visit within three months remained stable compared to last week at a value of 24.
One-week intentions to visit by region
While regional one-week intentions to visit cultural organizations can provide signals to inform expectations, the one-week intentions to visit your own organization matter most. From a coronavirus-related perspective, this includes considerations unique to your organization type, local perceptions and tolerances related to COVID-19, your organization’s messaging during its closure, and your own audiences’ sensitivities to risk. Here’s a dive into what you should consider to understand intentions to visit your own institution.
Still, the regional data can provide directional insight. The chart below compares intentions to visit cultural organizations as of May 31, 2019, and this last Saturday, May 30. You’ll note that one-week intentions to visit have not recovered – even in the states that have started to reopen their cultural institutions. For certain regions still operating under stay-at-home orders or recommendations, this isn’t surprising. After all, people aren’t likely to intend to visit an organization that they know will be closed within one week.
But there’s more to this chart than there seems at the outset. The numbers are lower than they were last week for several regions.
Remember: These data contemplate seven days’ worth of responses… and the civil unrest escalated at the end of that timeframe. This means that intentions to visit may now be lower than they appear, as only a portion of the week was likely to be impacted. The fact that it could move the needle on this metric in only one or two days for most of the US is meaningful.
A few things may be going on here. The region collectively comprised of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico tends to count fewer African Americans among residents in comparison to other regions in the United States. Folks in this region may have less recent exposure to race-related civil unrest, and, in general, it is not uncommon to observe people strongly reacting to unusual circumstances for them. On the other side of the equation, it’s also possible that individuals in southern states with a history of racial division may find painful emotions rekindled by recent events. These emotions, too, may result in declining intentions to participate in cultural experiences in the next week. Notably, this is the region where the most reopened cultural institutions are located. Again, the data contemplates each of the quantified seven days equally, but civil unrest did not impact them all equally. We’ll likely have a better sense of where chips are landing next Monday.
As always, these metrics are subject to change as conditions evolve.
On Wednesday, we’ll publish a data update on what will make people feel safe (data on masks included), with research cut for exhibit-based and performance-based institutions.
We’ll see you then.
Here are the COVID-19 data insights for cultural entities that we’ve published to date. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.