Vaccine mandates among employers and mask mandates in schools are widely popular in Boston, a new poll shows, a promising sign of consensus at a time when COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine rules remain highly divisive issues in other parts of the country.
A new Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll found 72 percent of likely voters in Boston believed employers should require workers to be vaccinated, and 87 percent supported a state requirement that K-12 public school students and staff wear masks inside educational facilities until at least early October.
It’s rare to see such strong agreement on any issue, let alone one that has proved so divisive nationally, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the recent poll of 500 likely voters in Boston.
“When you get those kinds of numbers, there’s an intensity, there’s an emotion,” Paleologos said in an interview. ”Those are the kinds of numbers that can drive long-term policy, and certainly Boston is at the forefront on both masks and vaccinations.”
There are indications that some types of vaccination requirement are broadly popular nationally, too: Majorities of Americans now favor proof-of-vaccination requirements for air travel, hotel stays, large event attendance, restaurant dining, and office work, according to recent Gallup polling.
The consensus around such public health measures is in sharp contrast to the vitriolic national debate over COVID-related rules, analysts said.
Still, opinions on vaccine and mask requirements split sharply along party lines, with majorities of Republicans opposing vaccine requirements for all five activities, while majorities of Democrats support them, the Gallup polling shows.
Even in Boston, support for vaccine and mask mandates was greater among Democrats than Republicans, demonstrating that positions on public health measures still largely track with partisan affiliation. According to the Globe/Suffolk University poll, 56 percent of Republicans supported the school mask mandate, compared with 94 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents. And just 44 percent of Republicans supported employers requiring vaccines, compared with 82 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Independents.
Those sharp divides explain — if only partially — why measures that have the overwhelming support of public health experts have been cast aside by political leaders in conservative pockets of the country, analysts said.
Republicans “are certainly more skeptical of the vaccine than Democrats are,” said Jon McHenry, a GOP pollster and strategist with North Star Opinion Research.
“It’s somehow become a partisan thing, where if the Biden administration is telling me to do it, therefore I’m not going to do it,” McHenry said. “We don’t get to go into an alternative universe and see what Democrats would be doing if President Trump was up there touting” the vaccine.
That partisan split is apparent in policy. As blue states tighten requirements for masking and vaccination, red states have rejected such measures and even barred local officials within their borders from taking such steps.
Vaccination rates reflect the split screen, too. In New England and along the country’s two coasts, far greater percentages of eligible residents have been vaccinated than in red states in the South and West. Vermont had the highest share of residents who have had at least one shot, with Massachusetts second, according to New York Times data; at the bottom of the list are West Virginia, Wyoming, and Idaho.
In Massachusetts, Republican Governor Charlie Baker issued one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates for state workers, requiring tens of thousands of executive department employees to prove their vaccination status by mid-October or face termination, without the option to undergo regular testing instead. Even some Democratic leaders in state government have taken a looser approach, allowing workers to opt out of being vaccinated if they undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
Meanwhile, in red states, vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions remain a third rail for politicians and a rallying cry for activists. Politicians tend to look to their reliable base of supporters before they consider the views of the broader electorate, McHenry said.
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed an executive order last month banning government COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Abbott’s order also states that public or private entities that receive public funds cannot require “consumers” to prove vaccination status to receive a service or enter an establishment. Abbott and other Republican state officials have pushed to block school districts from requiring masks, going so far as to sue local leaders who mandate masks in schools.
“The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates,” Abbott said in a statement last month.
Those divides are on clear display even within the boundaries of red states, said South Florida pollster Jim Kane.
Kane noted that in the Democratic stronghold of South Florida, masks are popular with little controversy. But in Republican areas such as the Florida panhandle and other northern regions of the state, where there is greater alignment with conservative Governor Ron DeSantis, “you will find that this is a freedom issue,” Kane said.
Those who oppose mask and vaccine mandates know they’re in the minority, so they speak up all the louder, Kane said.
“You’re going to see people fight harder on one side than the other,” Kane said. “People who support masks and vaccines, you don’t see them at school boards yelling and screaming. They’re not there.”
The Globe/Suffolk University poll was conducted Thursday through Saturday with live callers connecting with 500 people on their cellphones and landlines who said they will likely vote in the preliminary election, which ends Tuesday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
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