The map shows the geographic variation of these plans, and there are also partisan divisions. But even among Republicans, two-thirds forgo a traditional big Thanksgiving.
Our data comes from interviews conducted by global data and survey firm Dynata at the request of the New York Times. The company asked about Thanksgiving plans, getting more than 150,000 responses to the Nov. 13-23 survey, enough data to provide more detailed estimates than at the state level.
Nationwide, the survey found that only about 27% of Americans plan to dine with people outside their household. This number is roughly consistent with the results of several smaller recent surveys, including those by YouGov, the Covid States Project, and researchers at Ohio State University, all of which find that less than a third of Americans plan to celebrate as a group.
It also aligns with the results of an independent Times survey of epidemiologists. Of 635 public health experts, only about 21% planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside their homes. Both surveys – of ordinary Americans and epidemiologists – used identical question wording.
Americans and a large survey of epidemiologists gave similar answers: most said they would not celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside their homes.
Proportion of people eating Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their home
But as the map illustrates, 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. In some parts of Vermont, for example, only about 14% of households will celebrate with people outside their household. In parts of Missouri, more than half of residents plan to do so.
Public health officials are concerned about the Thanksgiving celebrations as coronavirus cases have reached record levels in many parts of the country. Traditional festivals, with long meals indoors and with some travel typically involved, could contribute to more cases of the disease, which is spread primarily through droplets and aerosols that can linger in unventilated indoor spaces. Last week, a series of federal and state health officials urged Americans to skip such plans and stay home for the holidays.
Party identification seems to explain much of the variation in Thanksgiving plans.
Share of people who eat Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their household, by political party
As in a similar survey of wearing summer masks, partisanship seems to account for much of the regional variation in Thanksgiving plans. Overall, survey respondents who identified as members of the Libertarian, Green, or Republican parties were more likely to plan a multi-household Thanksgiving than Democrats or those who were not affiliated with a political party.
The states President Trump won in this month’s election were generally more likely to have higher rates of Planned Thanksgivings for multiple households than the states Joe Biden won.
Americans living in states won by President Trump in 2020 were, on average, more likely to say that they plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside their homes.
Proportion of people having Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their household, by state
Won by Biden
Won by Trump
Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, the state with the lowest share of planned Thanksgivings in mixed households in the survey, said he and other officials had worked hard throughout the pandemic to get scientists , not politicians, deliver public health messages. But he and his wife, Trudi Inslee, had a “fireside chat” last week about Thanksgiving, highlighting family traditions they will be forgoing this year. Coronavirus cases are on the rise in Washington and the state has put new trade restrictions in place, but the number of cases there remains lower than in many other parts of the country. Mr. Inslee said he was happy to see people in his state shying away from big thanksgiving.
“We can now sing that we are now the most grateful state in the country,” he said. “We are thankful for our loved ones whom we want to keep alive for the next Thanksgiving.”
At the start of the pandemic, there was minimal partisan division on public health advice, said Samara Klar, associate professor of political science at the University of Arizona. But she noted that divergent messages from Republican and Democratic leaders have been reflected in divisions in favor of public health measures and self-reported mask wear. Thanksgiving plans seem to fit this larger pattern.
“There is nothing inherent in Republicans that makes them less concerned or inherent in Democrats that makes them more panicked,” she said. “But when you have an issue that people don’t know much about, people will reasonably look to their leaders for clues, and that’s why we’re seeing a gap.”
His research has shown that partisan divisions over coronavirus precautions tend to narrow in places that have been hit hardest by the virus.
There is evidence that recent disastrous warnings from public health officials are influencing Americans’ vacation plans. Our survey began collecting responses on November 13. 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 gatherings at the indoors, the number of Americans planning to celebrate with people outside their households fell to about 25 percent from about 28 percent, although the figure has rebounded somewhat.
Most of that change involved Republicans, who were perhaps more responsive than Democrats to the change in White House advice. Democrats tend to say they are more cautious about coronavirus risks throughout the pandemic.
The CDC’s Nov. 19 announcement urging Americans not to travel on Thanksgiving may have had a small effect.
Proportion of people saying they went to Thanksgiving dinner with people outside their household, by survey response date
There is reason to suspect that more Americans will mingle on Thanksgiving than these studies suggest. In general, people who participate in surveys are often reluctant to admit behavior that may be deemed undesirable. And the pandemic has made the notion of “household” more flexible for many families, who have let their neighbors, friends or relatives enter their “bubbles” to expand their social interactions while limiting their risk of Covid. Airports have been busier this week than at any time since the pandemic became a national emergency, although Sunday’s peak air travel was still only half the normal number for the holidays.
The Ohio State University survey found that only 21% of adults said they would celebrate with people outside their homes. But another question revealed that around 38% of people planned to celebrate in groups of more than 10 people. The gap is too large to be explained by the small number of large households in the country.
Iahn Gonsenhauser, one of the co-authors of that survey, said he was concerned that the responses to the household question could be colored by a combination of embarrassment and a flexible definition of households. But he still said it was remarkable that most of those interviewed by the survey seemed to take public health messages to heart.
“It is so easy to catch people who are not following the guidelines or who are categorically opposed to the guidelines or recommendations right now,” said Dr Gonsenhauser, head of quality and patient safety at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It’s a much stronger message right now than the message from people who just say it’s not a good idea right now, and that I’m not doing Thanksgiving in person.”