More trouble for Dems: Support for Biden's federal vaccine mandate weakens in new poll

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Let me seize the opportunity up front to point you back to this post wondering whether the mandate will ever actually take effect. Even if the courts stand aside, there’s a chance the White House will end up concluding there’s more to be lost politically than to be gained by following through on implementation at this stage of the pandemic.

The data below does nothing to undercut that possibility. To the contrary.

The good news for the White House in Politico’s new poll is that a majority continues to support the variety of federal vaccine mandates Biden issued this fall. The bad news for them is that the trends are in the wrong direction, especially with independents. Biden has lots tons of ground with indies on an array of policy matters over the past six months so the decline in support for his mandate within that group may be a simple matter of spillover. I.e. they no longer trust Biden to have the right policies for the country or to implement them wisely so why should they feel any differently about the mandate?

But there are also reasons to suspect a backlash that’s specific to the mandate is building and will continue to build for the foreseeable future. Which means, on top of everything else Democrats now have to contend with, Biden’s signature policy addressing the problem he was elected to solve may have become a political liability for him.

— 55% support requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations or weekly testing (down 3 percentage points since September).

— 54% support requiring most U.S. health care workers to get vaccinated without an option to opt out through regular testing (down 6 points since September).

— 51% support requiring federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated without an option to opt out through regular testing (down 6 points since September)

— Independents becoming more libertarian: When asked if government mandates to receive a Covid-19 vaccine violate or protect the rights of Americans, 44% thought they violate rights (+3 points since September) while 45% thought they protect the rights of Americans (-1 point since September).

The share of indies who believe mandates violate rather than protect rights is up 10 points since September. How come?

Four reasons, I think. First, as I said, is that independents have soured on Biden across the board policy-wise. Once you no longer believe a leader is up to the job, you’re destined to find yourself second-guessing all of his decisions. Even ones that seemed reasonable to you before.

Second, the fervor with which Republicans and righty media have rallied against mandates intensified once Biden brought down the hammer with his new vaccine rule. Conservative messaging against the federal mandate inevitably led some independents to reconsider their previous support last month.

Third and most importantly, public anxiety about inflation and the supply chain has risen since the mandate was announced in September. And as that anxiety rose, anxiety about the prospect of compounding the problem by laying off thousands of workers for refusing to get vaccinated surely rose with it. When Politico asked if Biden’s vaccine mandate will help the economy grow, the public split 45/44 in favor. (Some analysts believe that the mandate will reassure some unemployed workers who fear COVID that it’s safe to rejoin the labor force.) Independents, however, split 37/49 against. Voters in the middle of the electorate are probably, and understandably, worried that the new policy will be a drag on the economy at a moment when the public is already struggling to cope with economic disruption.

Fourth and finally, the more optimistic about the pandemic Americans become, the less necessary the mandate seems. When Biden issued the rule in September, the case for it was strong. Florida and other southern states were just coming out of a ferocious wave, proving that the U.S. hadn’t yet reached the level of population immunity it needed to prevent major surges. Two months later, though, it’s no longer clear that that’s true. Scientists like Scott Gottlieb have speculated that, between increasing immunity among adults, new vaccine eligibility for kids, and gangbusters therapeutics from Pfizer and Merck headed to the market, the darkest days of COVID are behind us. If that’s true, why impose a heavy-handed mandate on business owners forcing them to make their reluctant workers get vaccinated?

Of course, that logic cuts both ways. If we do see a national winter wave in the next month or two like the one we experienced last year, maybe that’ll send support for the mandate climbing again.

There a little good news for Biden in the poll. Asked whether they support or oppose the bipartisan roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill that just passed the House, Americans split 54/31 in Politico’s survey. A separate poll from Monmouth also finds strong backing for the bipartisan bill — and for the reconciliation package, assuming one exists and can actually pass Congress:

That’s 65 percent support for the roads-and-bridges bill and 62 percent support for Build Back Better. Whether Dems drown in a red wave next fall will depend on whether public support for the legislation translates into support for Democrats or whether voters just bank the policy wins and steer right by electing Republicans. Either way, you can see from these numbers why there were double-digit GOP votes for the bipartisan bill in the Senate and ultimately in the House. When legislation is this popular and addresses a subject which everyone agrees is a national priority, there’s more political upside than downside for centrists in voting yes. Even if it pisses off Trump.