A survey of Americans about President Joe Biden’s plan to require most workers to get either vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19 finds a deep and familiar divide: Democrats are overwhelmingly for it, while most Republicans are against it.
With the highly contagious delta variant driving deaths up to around 2,000 per day, the poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that overall, 51% say they approve of the Biden requirement, 34% disapprove and 14% hold neither opinion.
About three quarters of Democrats, but only about a quarter of Republicans, approve. Roughly 6 in 10 Republicans say they disapprove. Over the course of the outbreak, Democrats and Republicans in many places have also found themselves divided over masks and other precautions.
“I don’t believe the federal government should have a say in me having to get the vaccine or lose my job or get tested,” said 28-year-old firefighter Emilio Rodriguez in Corpus Christi, Texas. The Republican is not vaccinated.
Democrat and retired school secretary Sarah Carver, 70, strongly approves of the Biden mandate. The suburban Cleveland resident said she wants more people vaccinated to protect her 10-year-old grandson, who is too young to get the shot, and her vaccinated husband, who has breathing problems and Alzheimer’s disease.
“I believe Dr. Fauci,” Carver said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist. Carver has had two doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Sixty-four percent of vaccinated Americans say they approve of the mandate, while 23% disapprove. Among unvaccinated Americans, just 14% are in support, while 67% are opposed. Most remote employees approve, but in-person workers are about evenly divided.
Exactly how the mandate will work is still being hammered out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Some health experts have said weekly testing is a poor substitute for vaccination but a necessary part of the policy.
“Testing is used here to make it inconvenient” to avoid vaccination, said immunologist Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The choice will be: “You can get your two doses of vaccine, or here’s what you’re going to be doing every week.”
The hope, Gronvall said, is that mandates will force people who have procrastinated to join the 56% of the U.S. population now fully vaccinated.
The testing choice makes the Biden workplace mandate more palatable to Cassie Tremant, a 32-year-old volunteer for a wildlife rescue group in Austin, Texas. She agrees with the mandate as long as people can opt out by getting tested weekly. A Democrat, she is fully vaccinated. Her grandmother was hospitalized with COVID-19.
“Personally, I would prefer everybody to be vaccinated,” Tremant said. The Biden plan “gives people an option. If they don’t comply, it’s on them to get tested. I think it’s a fair rule.”
Roughly two-thirds of Americans say they are at least somewhat worried about themselves or family members becoming infected with the virus, though intense worry has declined. About 3 in 10 are now very or extremely worried, compared with about 4 in 10 in mid-August.
About two-thirds of Americans are at least somewhat confident the COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against virus variants.
Americans remain most trusting of health professionals for information about the vaccines, largely unchanged from December. Roughly 8 in 10 trust their doctors and other health care providers at least a moderate amount.
Rodriguez, the Corpus Christi firefighter, said he distrusts government vaccine information because it appears to him to be overly rosy.
“I’ve heard nothing negative about getting it at all,” he said. “Nothing about side effects. It’s ‘No, everything’s fine. Go ahead and go get it.’”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does list common side effects of the vaccines such as tiredness, muscle pain, fever, chills and nausea. Serious problems are rare, including heart inflammation that can occur in young men.
If he is subject to a workplace mandate, Rodriguez said, he will consult his doctor, whom he trusts.
Public trust in the top U.S. science agencies for vaccine information is also relatively high. Roughly 7 in 10 trust the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration at least a moderate amount.
“They’re the scientists and they know what they’re talking about,” said Ohio retiree Carver. “They’re not quacks like some you see on the internet.”
In contrast, only about 4 in 10 Americans say they trust the news media a moderate amount or more for information about the vaccines; about 6 in 10 have little or no trust in the media.
A majority of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of COVID-19, though his rating is lower than it was during the first six months of his presidency. Fifty-seven percent approve, while 43% disapprove. That’s similar to his ratings last month. As recently as July, roughly two-thirds approved of Biden’s handling of the pandemic.
Close to half don’t trust the president for information about vaccines. That includes Democrat Tremant, the Austin wildlife rescue volunteer.
“Politicians say really dumb stuff,” Tremant said. “I would never trust any medical guidance or advice from any politician, even if they’re my favorite politician in the world.”