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Partisanship Isn’t The Only Reason Why So Many Americans Remain Unvaccinated

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

It’s easy to blame partisanship for everything these days. Including the speed with which COVID-19 is raging through the U.S., causing cases to spike and CDC guidance to shift

The delta variant is spreading rapidly in part because around 30 percent of Americans remain entirely unvaccinated. About 60 percent of adults are fully vaccinated and another 9 percent are partly vaccinated,1 which puts the country just short of — and behind schedule for — President Biden’s 70 percent goal set for July Fourth.

And as we’ve seen for months, Americans’ willingness to get vaccinated can become a proxy for their politics. Republicans are more likely than Democrats and independents to say they won’t get a vaccination. Depending on the poll, somewhere around 20 percent to 30 percent of Republicans say they won’t get vaccinated, whereas only about 5 percent of Democrats say the same. Independents who are refusing to get the vaccine range from around 10 percent to 25 percent in surveys. 

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But partisanship isn’t the only thing that has shaped Americans’ vaccination status. Unvaccinated Americans tend to be younger, less well-educated and poorer; they are also more likely to be a person of color. The situation we’re in is not just because of politics but also because of access to the vaccine and broader skepticism of the health care system.

Age is an even more significant dividing line for vaccinations than politics is. Older Americans are far more likely to be vaccinated, undoubtedly because they were prioritized in the vaccination rollout since they’re more at risk from coronavirus infections. About 80 percent of Americans age 65 or older are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with about 55 percent of Americans 18 to 64. Within that 18-64 range, the younger the age group, the less likely it is to be vaccinated relative to its share of the population.

Some degree of skepticism or uncertainty may be playing a role in why young people are not as likely to be vaccinated. The CDC reported in June that from March to May, nearly half of American adults under 40 either were unsure about the vaccine or didn’t plan on getting one. Polls suggest that there may be less skepticism now, as the Public Religion Research Institute recently found that the share of Americans under age 50 who were hesitant or opposed to getting the vaccine fell from slightly more than 50 percent in March to 35 percent in June. Still, just under half of that group of 35 percent remained opposed to getting vaccinated in the June survey.

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The younger someone is, the more likely they are to be a person of color, so it’s also unsurprising that Black and Hispanic Americans have lower vaccination rates than non-Hispanic white Americans. In the latest weekly survey from The Economist/YouGov, slightly less than half of Black and Hispanic adults reported being fully vaccinated, while more than 60 percent of white adults said they were. And even when you include those who are still in the process of being vaccinated or intend to be vaccinated, a larger share of white Americans than Black or Hispanic Americans are vaccinated, are partly vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated.

The lag among people of color isn’t just about an unwillingness to get the jab. The Kaiser Family Foundation found in April that significantly more unvaccinated Black and Hispanic adults than white adults didn’t know where or when they could get a vaccine. More fundamentally, unvaccinated people of color were far more likely than white Americans to say they hadn’t gotten the vaccine because they didn’t have enough time or were worried about missing work, according to KFF’s June survey. Similarly, PRRI found that Black Americans were slightly more likely than Americans as a whole to say a lack of child care or transportation was a barrier to getting vaccinated.

It does seem like more outreach about the relatively minor side effects could pay dividends as well. KFF found in June that 60 percent of Hispanic adults and 55 percent of Black adults were concerned about side effects, slightly more than the 51 percent of white adults who said the same. And slightly more people of color mentioned being wary of getting vaccinated as a reason for not having had the shot, which may have something to do with their long history of experiencing inequities in the health care system.

There are still more complicating factors than just race, age or partisanship. Socioeconomic status is playing a role, too. KFF’s June survey found that about 4 in 5 college graduates had at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 3 in 5 of those without a degree. The education gap also exists among white Americans, too, as The Economist/YouGov survey showed that around 80 percent of white Americans with a college degree had been fully vaccinated, compared with about 55 percent of those without a degree. In addition, only 52 percent of those making under $50,000 said they were fully vaccinated, compared with 63 percent of those making $50,000 to $100,000 and 72 percent of those making $100,000 or more.

So, to recap: Americans sure are a complicated bunch. But there’s still hope for getting more people vaccinated. PRRI found that about half of those who were hesitant about getting the vaccine were more likely to get it after hearing that it would help protect human life, help protect the most vulnerable people in their community or allow them to safely visit family and friends. And according to KFF’s June survey, some other changes might also encourage more people to get vaccinated, including implementing vaccine lotteries (already used by some states), using mobile vaccine units in undervaccinated neighborhoods and providing free child care during the vaccination and recovery process.

Still, we have a long way to go, and many people will get seriously ill before we get there. It’s easy to imagine that only another deadly wave of COVID-19 cases might spur some uncertain Americans to get the vaccine — and those who are younger, less affluent or people of color could be more at risk considering they’re more likely to be unvaccinated.

Other polling bites

  • According to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, 63 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of COVID-19, but that’s 9 percentage points lower than the share who approved at the end of March. Meanwhile, Biden’s numbers on other issues were much lower, particularly those on crime, immigration and gun violence.
  • In light of Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan, Gallup found that Americans were evenly divided over whether U.S. involvement there — which began in October 2001 under President George W. Bush — was an error in the first place. Forty-seven percent told the pollster the U.S. made a mistake sending military forces into Afghanistan, while 46 percent said it wasn’t a mistake. Americans have usually been more likely to say U.S. involvement wasn’t a mistake, although Gallup found a near-even divide in 2014, too. In the new poll, a majority of Democrats and independents said they thought U.S. involvement was a mistake, while fewer than 3 in 10 Republicans felt the same way.
  • As for possible intervention in Haiti, three-fourths of registered voters told The Hill/HarrisX that the U.S. should not get involved following the assassination of the Caribbean nation’s president, Jovenel Moïse, earlier this month. Biden stated he had no intention of sending U.S. troops there even though Haiti’s interim government requested that the U.S. and U.N. send security forces to help protect Haiti’s critical infrastructure during this time of political instability.
  • Morning Consult/Politico found that 58 percent of registered voters supported a congressional commission investigation of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, which comes as the House select committee looking into the insurrection held its first hearing on Tuesday. Support was down from 66 percent in June, however, as only 34 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of independents backed the congressional investigation, down from 45 percent and 65 percent, respectively.
  • Nevada recently made waves by passing a law to establish a presidential primary as opposed to its usual caucus. Per a poll from OH Predictive Insights, Nevadans are very much on board with this change, as 52 percent say they prefer a primary, compared with only 13 percent who prefer the caucus system. In an unusual show of bipartisanship, majorities of both Republican and Democratic voters say they back a primary system. However, the law also sets the primary for the first Tuesday in February starting in 2024, which could put Nevada in conflict with Iowa and New Hampshire over which states lead the presidential nomination process. While Nevada Republicans in the OHPI poll backed the change to a primary, the state party actually opposed the move to avoid upsetting the nomination calendar.

Biden approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,2 51.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 43.3 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +8.1 points). At this time last week, 52.2 percent approved and 42.8 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of +9.4 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 52.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 41.9 percent, for a net approval rating of +10.8 points.

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  1. As of July 29.

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

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.