Weary of the coronavirus crisis and split on whether to quickly get a vaccine, most people in Massachusetts nonetheless are optimistic about their future and believe key parts of life will be returning to normal in the next year, a new poll by Suffolk University and The Boston Globe found.
At the same time, signs of deeper distress started to appear among residents as a pernicious second surge bears down on Massachusetts, with a growing minority souring on the state’s direction.
More than 7 in 10 residents approve of the way Governor Charlie Baker has handled the crisis, but his numbers have dipped since June. More people, especially young workers, say they’re worried about the toll the pandemic is taking on their financial health.
The crisis has also chipped away at how Massachusetts residents size up their neighbors, with 27 percent of respondents seeing people here as mostly selfish rather than generous. That’s up from 18 percent in May.
Slightly more than half of Massachusetts adults say they will take a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they can, while a third of people said they would wait awhile until other people have been vaccinated and another 12 percent said they would not take the vaccine at all.
Those figures roughly mirror national polls indicating significant skepticism about the safety of the various vaccines expected to ship to states in the coming days, weeks, and months.
The Suffolk/Globe survey found Black and Hispanic residents are far more reluctant to get the vaccine, a trend that is also echoed in national polls. In Massachusetts, only 11 percent of Black and 32 percent of Hispanic respondents said they were willing to get vaccinated as soon as possible, compared to 59 percent of white residents and 71 percent of Asian respondents.
The poll found that nearly one-third of the state’s Black residents don’t want to take a COVID-19 vaccine at all; same goes for about one quarter of Hispanic residents.
In interviews, several people expressed at least some concern with the blazing speed at which the first vaccines were developed, less than a year after the virus was identified — and said they were glad to learn they will be relatively far back in the state’s priority line for who gets inoculated.
“I am worried about the safety of the vaccine,” said Ronald Butler, a 61-year-old Black resident of Mattapan.
When Butler saw the guidelines on the news for how vaccines would be distributed to people in their 60s, he was satisfied, believing he would get the vaccine in the spring.
“I think that would be a good time,’' he said. “I want to wait to make sure that it’s working.”
Others expressed internal tension between their own wariness of vaccines generally and the collective fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Tim Fisk, 46, who owns a salon in Northampton, said he is conflicted about taking the vaccine since he prefers to let his body’s immune system “do what it’s supposed to do” and skips the flu shot every year.
But he also understands that “in order for the vaccine to work, as a society, we have to get a certain critical mass of people taking it,” said Fisk. “I don’t want to take it for myself, personally, but I kind of want to take it to be a good citizen.”
Oliver Sughrue, 23, a teacher who lives in New Bedford, said he will take a vaccine as soon as he can — but the speed at which these first vaccines arrived gives him some pause.
“It feels science fiction fast,” he said. “We’re bracing ourselves for so much bad news, we expect something to go wrong.”
When it comes to COVID-19 more broadly, the survey found the overwhelming support Baker enjoyed earlier in the pandemic slipping somewhat, though he remains very popular.
Approval of Baker’s handling of the coronavirus crisis slid to about 72 percent, down from 81 percent in June, a statistically significant drop. His support among women, rural residents, and Hispanic people dropped most significantly.
Meanwhile, 58 percent said Massachusetts is heading in the right direction while 29 percent said it’s on the wrong track, a notable shift from June, when 71 percent said the state was on the right track and just 18 percent said wrong direction.
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said there’s a link between these declines and the greater financial worries captured in the poll, particularly for certain demographic groups.
“Between health concerns and the economic anxiety people are feeling, the right direction number is dropping,” he said, noting the lack of a deal on COVID relief in Washington could be weighing on people as well.
Rural residents, Hispanic people, and lower-income households are among those who reported much more economic pain than they felt in the summer, not long after stimulus checks had hit bank accounts.
So did younger workers. Nearly two out of three residents ages 18 to 24 said they’ve had their income diminished by the pandemic, up from 40 percent in June. For those aged 25 to 35, more than half said their income has taken a hit, compared to 38 percent six months ago.
“The fallout from coronavirus, economically, is hurting young people,” Paleologos said.
Fifty-seven percent of residents say Baker has so far struck an appropriate balance in closing down businesses as a second surge of the virus begins to lash the state.
But 23 percent believe Baker is being too lenient with COVID restrictions.
Dan Jackson is among those who’ve soured on the governor’s response.
“Putting profits over people is never a good thing, and it’s very much what it feels like,” said the 32-year-old Watertown resident. He expressed dismay that with case numbers soaring and deaths creeping back toward the levels seen in the spring, Baker is not responding with the same sense of urgency in tone and action as he did then.
“I don’t mean to downplay the effect that it’s had on small businesses across the Commonwealth, but unfortunately it’s a once-in-a-century pandemic,” said Jackson. “We’ve got vaccines in sight . . . . We can see the shore, we just need to freakin’ swim there. But a lot of people are going to drown on the way.”
On the other hand, about 15 percent of Massachusetts adults believe Baker’s efforts to stop the virus’ spread have gone too far.
One respondent who had told the pollster he thought Baker was being too strict couldn’t talk to a reporter because, he said, he was on vacation.
But most Massachusetts residents approve of the job Baker is doing and even appreciate the challenging task he faces.
Fisk, the Northampton salon owner who also runs a boutique in Greenfield, said he sees Baker “walking that fine line” between wanting to support businesses and wanting to respond to public safety demands. “And then also knowing when it’s time to shut down. It’s so nuanced.”
“I just think he’s been very careful and I think mandating masks is really important,” said Bethany Boyle, a 42-year-old realtor and registered Democrat from Taunton. “That’s helped Massachusetts be in a better position than the rest of some of the states.”
The survey also uncovered some troubling signs for the state’s public health experts. Even with more than 32,000 new cases and 342 deaths reported in the state last week, nearly 3 in 10 residents say they plan to spend holidays this month with people outside of their immediate household.
The poll of 500 Massachusetts residents was conducted by live callers dialing landlines and cellphones from Dec. 7 to Dec. 10 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Despite the dark winter ahead, a majority of respondents believe they’ll be back to seeing friends and family as they were before the pandemic struck no later than next fall. And the vast majority — 71 percent — of Massachusetts residents say they feel optimistic about their futures, a sentiment reflected in a number of interviews.
“Hopefully though there’s a positive that can spark out of this,” said MacDonald Sprague, 52, a roofer who lives in Middleborough. “Look at it this way: You take the same route to your destination every single day. You have two options: sit and cry at the bridge being out or get in your vehicle and say we’ll find a new way. . . . Hopefully people are figuring out a way to get over it, around it, or under it.”