This is the fourth poll I’ve seen testing the popularity of the new mandate and three and a half have found majorities in favor. Morning Consult had approval of the policy at 58 percent while Axios-Ipsos put it at 60 percent. Quinnipiac found Americans slightly opposed at 48/51 when it asked a broad question about Biden’s “plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for millions of Americans in the public and private sectors.” But when it got more specific about the details, a majority swung around in favor at 53/46.
Why the conflicting results in Quinnipiac’s case? I think it had to do with the fact that Biden’s mandate isn’t a true mandate. It allows the unvaccinated to get tested regularly in lieu of getting their shots. Evidently that’s made a meaningful number of Americans more comfortable with his power grab.
Today Fox News finds a majority in favor of not just Biden’s mandate but a slew of other COVID restrictions. Scanning this list makes me wonder if Ron DeSantis’s anti-mandate policies in a purple state like Florida might be more of a liability for him than I thought:
It’s dumb but understandable that mask mandates are more popular than vaccine mandates. A mask won’t protect you from death (and may not protect you as well from infection) the way a vaccine will, but masks aren’t invasive the way needles are. And given that experts have spent 18 months selling the public on masking versus nine months selling them on vaccination, it’s no surprise that some people might view masks as the superior precaution.
Notably, Biden’s approval in handling COVID hasn’t changed over the span of a month despite having rolled out a controversial mandate in the interim. In August Fox had him at 54 percent support on the pandemic and now it has him at 55 percent. A clue as to why can be found in the last item listed in the numbers above: Americans grew a bit more enthusiastic about local vaccine mandates as Delta ran wild in the southern U.S. (The share who said they were very concerned about the pandemic rose five points between August and September, per Fox.) Likewise, as more people get vaccinated each day, the number who stand to be inconvenienced personally by vaccine mandates shrinks. That’s the core of Biden’s political calculation on this, that the large and growing vaccinated majority will tolerate him twisting the arms of the unvaccinated minority because the new rules are no burden to them.
Here’s the breakdown by demographics. Note the degree of Republican support:
With independents evenly split, the only reason Biden’s mandate has majority support is because Republicans don’t oppose it to the same degree that Democrats support it. In fact, Morning Consult and Axios-Ipsos also found a third of GOPers in favor of the policy. Righties are generally anti-mandate in all things, particularly when a Democrat is the one doing the mandating, but a large minority are willing to make an exception in this case in hopes of ending the pandemic sooner. They’re the difference for Biden right now.
Note the African-American numbers too. It’s been common this year when Republicans are criticized for low vaccination rates to hear the retort, “Blacks aren’t getting vaccinated either.” Which is true — their vaccination rate is lower than that of whites. But in polling, at least, Republicans and African-Americans are poles apart on support for things like masking and vaccine mandates:
There’s even a marked difference when the two groups are asked whether they believe the vaccine is safe and effective:
Blacks are two to one in favor, Republicans are barely above water.
It could be that the polling here is unreliable due to partisan dynamics or social desirability. Some Republicans who’ve had their shots might resist vouching for the vaccine in polls as Biden’s strategy to incentivize vaccination grows more heavy-handed. And some blacks who are skeptical of the vaccine may claim otherwise because they don’t want to be “judged” by the pollster or because they feel bound by party loyalty to support a Democratic president’s policy initiative.
But if the numbers are right, there *is* a meaningful difference between African-Americans’ and Republicans’ views of vaccination. Although maybe not forever: Fox notes that the share of Republicans who are very concerned about the pandemic jumped 14 points between last month and this month. A raging Delta wave in mostly red states this summer had an inevitable effect on righty opinion, it seems.
One more general point about the polling on Biden’s mandate. Fox’s survey was a survey of registered voters, not all adults. I’d guess that people who are unregistered to vote for whatever reason — poverty, disaffection from wider society, etc — are also much less likely to get vaccinated and therefore presumably opposed to mandates. By not including unregistered voters, Fox may be underestimating the share of the wider public that dislikes Biden’s policy. Although, from Biden’s perspective, so long as those people don’t register to vote and punish him at the ballot box, who cares?