COVID-19 Vaccinations as the New Wedge Issue

August 10, 2021

Vaccine Passports

In late May, the EEOC updated rules about requiring vaccines to return to work. While employers can require in-person workers (but not remote workers) to get vaccinated, there are limits. Among other things, businesses must make accommodations for the ADA and can’t make one’s vaccine status public information. This is consistent with President Biden’s policy that there will be no federal vaccine mandate, no ‘vaccine passport,’ and no federal COVID-19 vaccination database.

Nonetheless, Republicans across the country are blowing their dog whistles with COVID vaccinations as a proxy for their arguments of government overreach under Democrats. As of July 30th, we have seen 19 states outlaw the use of vaccine passports while two more severely restrict their use. Three of these (AZ, FL, GA) will figure prominently in both the midterms and the 2024 general election.

Vaccine Mandates

Earlier in the year, we saw a 14% drop in support for mandatory vaccinations in just four months (Morning Consult/Politico 12/2020; Rasmussen Reports 3/2021). This was before the explosion in illness and death caused by the Covid Delta variant. In recent days, we’ve seen two polls suggesting widespread support for mask mandates — a Data for Progress survey (8/2) suggested 63% of all voters, and even 47% of GOP voters, supported employer mask mandates in certain industries. A poll from an academic consortium (The COVID States Project, 7/7) suggested majority support for mask mandates in 45 states.

We are skeptical about the size of this groundswell. Our own experiences in red states suggest that the polling could be overstating support for vaccine mandates. Low-trust voters are both less likely to get vaccinated and less likely to take polls.

Before a candidate goes all in for vaccine mandates, please ask the pollster the following questions about their survey methodology:

  • How wide is the variance between the CDC stats on adult vaccinations in your state and the self-reported vaccination rate among poll recipients? Is the sample representative of the electorate on this one issue?
  • What was the refusal-to-participate-in-survey rate by partisan crosstab? A high GOP refusal to answer is a caution flag about the intensity of the distrust level.
  • When in the survey was the “have you been vaccinated” question asked?  Despite deep partisan divisions, a positive response to the vaccine question is generally perceived as a socially desirable response. It could be an “anchor” for subsequent questions about support for mask mandates. At the least, look closely at the crosstabs for these additional questions in reference to yes/no/refused-to-answer on the earlier vaccine question.
  • For those who answer that they aren’t yet vaccinated, what percentage cite issues of mistrust compared to those reporting excuses (no access, can’t afford it, transportation issues)?

Our own findings confirm an irrational opposition to COVID vaccines and vaccine mandates among an alarming number of white voters. And as long as the Far Right media celebrates these champions of resistance, soft Republican and swing voters won’t have a clear lens on this issue and the expert advice of immunologists will be discounted.

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