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Americans Are Worried About Omicron — And Are Ready To Take Most Precautions

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.


After nearly two years of living in a pandemic, many Americans have started to return to “normal” life. 

In fact, 74 percent of Americans said their lives had returned to normal, according to a November Yahoo News/YouGov poll. But the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, could once again change how Americans feel about getting back to their pre-COVID lives. A recent YouGov survey found that 33 percent of Americans said they were somewhat concerned by the omicron variant, and 21 percent said they were very concerned. Other polling had similar findings: A recent The Hill/HarrisX poll found that 41 percent of voters were somewhat concerned and 27 percent were very concerned.

The World Health Organization classified omicron as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26, shortly after South African officials flagged the variant (although recent retesting of older samples has shown that omicron was in Europe about a week prior). But there isn’t that much known about the variant at this point. For instance, we don’t know how transmissible omicron is compared with other variants, and the severity of an infection from omicron remains unclear, too.

There isn’t that much polling on how Americans are reacting to the omicron variant yet, either, but a YouGov poll conducted on Nov. 30 found that 38 percent of Americans thought the variant posed a serious risk to all Americans, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, although 25 percent of respondents were unsure on the variant’s risk level. And the country thinks restrictions are on the way. The Harris Poll found that 87 percent of adults thought the omicron variant would very or somewhat likely lead to a higher case rate and new restrictions. But Americans seem prepared to take precautions. A Morning Consult poll conducted Nov. 29-30 found that large majorities of Americans were willing to take a number of precautions to stop the spread of omicron, such as mandatory mask usage and encouraging vaccination and booster shots. However, Americans were less supportive of closing businesses or government facilities to combat omicron — just 44 percent supported this.

Some reports suggest that current vaccines might be less effective against omicron, but at a briefing on Wednesday about the first U.S. case of omicron, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical officer to the president, stressed that Americans should still get their primary vaccination and a booster.

In fact, one reason why variants keep cropping up is because so much of the world is unvaccinated. Researchers have found that low vaccination rates allow COVID-19 to spread more easily, which thereby increases the possibility that the virus will mutate. And currently,1 only about 55 percent of the world’s population has received one vaccine dose, according to Our World in Data — and this number falls to just 6 percent in low-income countries. In South Africa, where omicron was first identified, only 29 percent of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A majority of Americans (76 percent) told Morning Consult that providing vaccines to low-income countries was important for controlling omicron, but poorer countries have long lacked access to the vaccines because of distribution issues and the cost of the shots.

Two sisters pose for a photo after they received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Related: How Are Kids Handling The Pandemic? We Asked Them. Read more. »

In late summer and early fall, the Biden administration was criticized for encouraging Americans to seek booster shots, given how terribly poorer countries have struggled with access to the vaccines. But most Americans, then and now, support getting booster shots to protect themselves. In that same Morning Consult poll, a strong majority of U.S. adults (70 percent) said the encouragement of boosters was an important measure to fight the new variant. And even before the omicron variant was identified, the number of Americans getting boosters was up, according to an Echelon Insights poll. The number of registered voters who said they’d gotten the booster increased 15 percentage points between October and November.

The willingness of Americans to get boosters and share vaccines with other countries is a good sign, but much of the world remains unvaccinated. That means while vaccines have proven to be effective against COVID-19, it’s likely variants will continue to emerge until more of the global population is vaccinated.


How COVID-19 vaccines work

Other polling bites

  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, America’s second-most popular governor, announced on Wednesday that he will not seek a third term next year. Baker was always a bit of an outlier in a state as blue as Massachusetts, but he likely owed his success to his appeal to moderate voters; he was also a critic of former President Donald Trump. But now, according to an October survey by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the Democratic Governors Association, Republicans in the state might be looking to nominate someone who embraces more of Trump’s agenda. A large majority of the state’s Republican voters (75 percent) would prefer a nominee who embraced Trump’s agenda, and 50 percent would pick Trump-backed Republican Geoff Diehl over Baker if the primary were held on the day they were surveyed. And with Baker now out, Diehl is the only prominent Republican candidate to have announced he’s running. (There are two other Republicans in the running, but they have lower profiles.) At this point, the Democratic side has three major candidates vying for the nomination, but all eyes seem to be on the state’s Democratic Attorney General Maura Healy and whether she will join the race.
  • On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and conservative justices on the court seemed to suggest in their questions that they’d be willing to uphold Mississippi’s law — and maybe even overturn Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973. As my colleague Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux wrote earlier this week: Polls consistently show that a strong majority of Americans don’t want Roe overturned. At the same time, Americans' views on the issue tend to be murky: Most want some restriction on abortion, but only 28 percent thought it was too easy to obtain the procedure, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey from early last year. And regarding the Mississippi law specifically, an Economist/YouGov poll from early November found that Americans were split: 42 percent of adults approved of the law, and 42 percent disapproved.
  • Last week, a Georgia jury found three white men guilty of murdering Amaud Arbery, a Black man who the men chased and shot to death while he was jogging. Most Americans (68 percent) approved of the jury’s verdicts, with 65 percent agreeing that justice was served, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. This might have something to do with how prosecutors didn’t target race or bigotry in their arguments. Morning Consult’s polling shows that Black (77 percent) and white (67 percent) Americans similarly approved of the verdict.
  • In the middle of November, Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges after he'd shot three men, killing two and injuring another, during last summer’s protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The case centered on whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense or as a vigilante, and how Americans view the verdict largely hinges on their stance on this, per polling from Morning Consult. They found that 87 percent of people who thought Rittenhouse was protecting the public approved of the verdict, while 77 percent of those who thought Rittenhouse was in Kenosha to provoke violence disapproved of the verdict. Overall, Americans were pretty split on the verdict, with 43 percent of Americans approving of Rittenhouse’s acquittal and 39 percent disapproving of it.
  • Around the globe, people see racial and ethnic discrimination as a greater problem in the U.S. than in their own country, per a Pew Research Center survey. A median of 89 percent of adults across 16 countries with advanced economies thought discrimination was a serious problem in the U.S., while a median of 67 percent thought discrimination was a serious problem in their home country.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 51.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.3 percentage points).2 At this time last week, 42.9 percent also approved and 51.8 percent also disapproved (a net approval rating of -8.9 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 42.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 50.8 percent (a net approval rating of -8.0 points).

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Republicans currently lead Democrats by 0.6 percentage points (42.7 percent to 42.0 percent, respectively).3 A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 0.5 percentage points (42.6 percent to 42.1 percent, respectively). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats over Republicans by 2.7 points (43.5 percent to 40.9 percent).

Footnotes

  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  3. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Mackenzie Wilkes was a politics intern at FiveThirtyEight.

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