Poll: Vaccine acceptance rising — except among Republicans

Andrew Romano

Over the past few months, all of the available data from clinical trials and real-world studies has shown the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and extremely effective. Experts have emphasized again and again the inoculation represents America’s only way out of the pandemic.

According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, most Americans have absorbed this message and become more likely to say they will get vaccinated since the vaccine rollout began in the wake of last year’s presidential election. Today, 60 percent of registered voters say they’ve either been vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated, up from the 45 percent who said on Nov. 1 of last year that they planned to roll up their sleeves.

Yet in a troubling sign of polarization with echoes of the partisan divide over masks, the survey of 1,556 U.S. adults also found stubborn resistance to vaccination among one group in particular: Republicans.

Last November, before any vaccines had been approved, the gap between Democrats who said they planned to get vaccinated (51 percent) and Republicans who said the same (43 percent) was relatively small. Not anymore. Now, a full 78 percent of Democrats say they have gotten vaccinated or will get vaccinated versus just 47 percent of Republicans — a 31-point chasm.

Among Republicans who haven’t been vaccinated yet, a plurality (44 percent) say they will “never” go through with it. And while most Democrats and independents who were unsure about vaccination back in November now favor it, the opposite is true among previously unsure Republicans, who either remain undecided (25 percent) or have split evenly between the “yes” and “no” camps — making the GOP the only political group with more noes now than before the election.

This hardening hesitancy on the right stands in stark contrast to a growing pro-vaccination consensus that otherwise cuts across demographic and racial lines. The numbers are clear. Among Democrats, the margin in favor of getting a COVID-19 vaccine — a.k.a., the gap between the yeas and the nays — has grown by 31 points since Election Day; among independents, it has grown by 18 points. Among white Americans, it has grown by 17 points; among Black Americans, it has grown by 31.

Only Republicans have bucked this trend, showing no net shift in favor of vaccination since last November.

The question of why is difficult to answer, but America’s changing political landscape is likely playing a part. According to a recent Business Insider report, “the frequency with which [Tucker] Carlson and other [Fox News] hosts are seeking to undermine faith in vaccines appears to be increasing” — a possible response to the transition from a Republican White House to a Democratic one.

Meanwhile, the Yahoo News/YouGov poll offers at least one clue about who might be most likely to turn against vaccination as misinformation continues to spread. According to the survey, the percentage of Americans who have been vaccinated or plan to be vaccinated increases with education, climbing from 37 percent for those without a college degree to 71 percent for college graduates. Yet while this dynamic exists in both parties, it is largely Republicans without a college degree who are driving the overall numbers down: A full 49 percent now say they won’t get vaccinated versus just 35 percent who say they will or already have. In comparison, Democrats without a college degree favor COVID-19 vaccination by 33 points.

An EMT with the Texas Department of State Health Services draws the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe before people are inoculated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination site at the Esports Stadium Arlington & Expo Center in Arlington, Texas, U.S. February 12, 2021. REUTERS/Cooper Neill
An EMT with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Esports Stadium Arlington & Expo Center in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 12. (Cooper Neill/Reuters)

To be sure, the Yahoo News/YouGov poll reveals stark disparities in vaccine distribution. Roughly 1 in 7 Americans (14 percent) says they’ve already received a COVID-19 vaccination; 9 percent say they have received both shots. (Self-reported numbers don’t necessarily align with official vaccination data.) Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say they know someone who has been vaccinated. Yet the uptake levels plummet along with income, falling from 27 percent among Americans making $100,000 a year or more to just 9 percent among those making $50,000 or less. They’re hardly equal across racial lines, either, with 9 percent of Hispanic Americans and 13 percent of Black Americans reporting that they’ve been vaccinated versus 16 percent of white Americans. Likewise, 85 percent of high earners say they know someone who’s been vaccinated, while just 55 percent of those making $50,000 or less say the same. And on that question there’s a full 15-point gap between white Americans (68 percent) and Black Americans (53 percent) as well.

The survey delivered mixed results on how quickly vaccines can help return America to normal:

● 57 percent think most Americans will be vaccinated by fall 2021.

● 68 percent of those planning to be vaccinated think life will be mostly or fully back to normal after they and those around them are vaccinated.

● But just 24 percent expect “life in America to return to normal” in 2021, with another 36 percent expecting normalcy in 2022 and 19 percent predicting life will “never” return to normal.

Similarly, 37 percent of Americans say the worst of the pandemic is behind us, while 28 percent say the worst is yet to come and 34 percent are unsure. Roughly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) are at least somewhat worried about “newer, potentially more contagious” COVID-19 variants and plan to keep wearing a mask in public (71 percent) and staying at home as much as possible (62 percent). Fewer say they plan to buy a better mask (17 percent) or wear two masks in public (22 percent).

Overall, Americans seem to view the ongoing vaccine rollout more negatively than positively. Just 19 percent say the distribution of doses has been as fast as it could be; 51 percent say the opposite. Just 12 percent say distribution has been very well organized in their area, while more describe the process as somewhat well organized (36 percent) or poorly organized (26 percent). Pluralities say that signing up for vaccination appointments has been too hard (36 percent) and that vaccine distribution has been unfair (32 percent). And a majority think America’s rollout has been either worse than those of other countries (25 percent) or about the same (26 percent). Just 15 percent say it has been better.

Regardless, most Americans see the current administration as an improvement over the one that came before it. Asked whether they approve of the way President Biden is handling the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, 53 percent said yes and just 29 percent said no. Asked the same question about Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, a mere 37 percent approved. Nearly half (48 percent) did not.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,556 U.S. adults interviewed online from Feb. 20 to 22, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.9 percent.

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