(NEW YORK) — Vaccine hesitancy has subsided in the face of the delta surge, with the share of Americans who are disinclined to get a coronavirus shot now just half what it was last January. Support for mask mandates is broad and President Joe Biden’s approval for handling the pandemic has dropped sharply.

Alongside the steep rise in cases, there’s been a jump in perceived risk of catching the virus, from 29% in late June to 47% now, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds. Yet worries about the consequences of infection are moderate, expressed by 39%, partly reflecting broad awareness of vaccine efficacy.

While 75% of adults have gotten a shot, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some hesitancy persists. Among unvaccinated adults, about 7 in 10 are skeptical of the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, 9 in 10 see vaccination as a personal choice rather than a broader responsibility and just 16% have been encouraged by someone close to them to get a shot. Each is an impediment to uptake.

Further, few unvaccinated Americans, 16%, say the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine makes them more likely to get a shot; 82% say it makes no difference. And among those who work, again just 16% say they’d get a shot if their employer required it; many more say they’d quit.

The poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds approval of Biden’s handling of the pandemic dropping steeply, from 62% in June to 52% now. Forty-one percent disapprove, with the rest undecided. (Biden’s overall approval rating is just 44%, pulled down by criticism of his handling of the Afghanistan pullout, as reported Friday.)

Policies

  • On the policy front, the survey finds broad support for mask mandates, with smaller majorities lining up behind vaccine requirements:
  • Sixty-seven percent support school districts requiring students, faculty and staff to wear masks. As many support state or local orders requiring masks in public places.
  • Fifty-nine percent support school vaccine mandates for teachers and staff; 54% support this for students if a vaccine is approved for their age group. Public school parents, though, are less apt to support student mandates – 47% vs. 56% among others.

Close to half of all adults, 52%, support businesses requiring vaccination for employees who come into work – but that ranges from 45% among people who work for pay to 66% of all others. Many fewer people who work for an employer, 18%, say their employer currently has a vaccine mandate in place.

Marking the strength of vaccine resistance among some Americans, if a workplace mandate were imposed, three-quarters of unvaccinated workers say they’d quit their job (42%) or seek a health or religious exemption (35%). If those who sought an exemption didn’t get one, most say they’d then quit. In all, assuming no exemptions, 72% of unvaccinated workers not currently facing a workplace mandate threaten to walk if faced with one.

On the issue of vaccine information, one-third of unvaccinated Americans say they’ve heard or read things about the vaccines that have swayed them against getting a shot. (Many may have been predisposed to be receptive to that kind of information in the first place.) Just 4% say they’ve been swayed in favor, likely because nearly all such people are vaccinated by now. Sixty-two percent of the unvaccinated report no impact of what they’ve heard or read.

The survey touches on a few items unrelated to the pandemic. In one result, Biden has a 45-49% approval rating for handling the economy, with approval down 7 percentage points since it last was measured in April. Also 53% support $3.5 trillion in federal spending on new or expanded social programs, educational assistance and efforts to address climate change. Forty-one percent are opposed.

Vaccine attitudes

As noted, 47% of Americans think they have a high or moderate risk of getting sick from the coronavirus, up sharply from 29% in June as the delta variant has surged. Still, just 39% are worried about it, with only 7% very worried. (Worry is broader among vaccinated people, at 45% vs. the unvaccinated at 22%.)

In a different question in January, many more expressed concerns about infection: 60% overall were worried that they or a family member might get sick. That peaked at 69% at the start of the pandemic in the United States in March 2020.

About 7 in 10 Americans see the vaccines as safe and as many call them effective. Yet there are compunctions. Many fewer — 43% — call them very safe or very effective. And 27% don’t think they’re safe or effective. Vaccine hesitancy soars among people who hold these doubts; in a statistical analysis called regression, they’re crucial predictors of not getting a shot. As noted, among the unvaccinated, seven in 10 question vaccine safety and efficacy.

Another key predictor of vaccine uptake is the sense that it’s a responsibility to protect others, not just a personal choice. Yet the public only divides on this: 50% call it a personal choice; 48%, a broader responsibility. Among unvaccinated people, the share calling it a personal choice soars to 91%, and 8 in 10 of them feel strongly about this. Among the vaccinated, by contrast, 62% say it’s a responsibility to others.

Two other predictors of getting vaccinated, albeit weaker ones, are a sense that people who care about you want you to get a shot and one’s level of worry about getting infected.

In the first, fewer than half of adults overall, 47%, say someone who cares about them has encouraged them to get vaccinated. About as many, 43%, say those who care about them have stayed out of it; 5% say they’ve been actively discouraged from taking action.

Notably, among unvaccinated adults, only 16% say people who care about them have encouraged them to get a shot, versus 58% among vaccinated adults — evidence of how establishing a social norm of vaccination is another way to encourage uptake.

Groups

Lingering vaccine hesitancy — defined as people who say they definitely or probably will not get the coronavirus vaccine (as noted, 17% overall) — is especially high among rural residents (36%), very conservative people (36%), Republicans (30%), conservatives overall (30%), evangelical white Protestants (28%) and those with no more than a high school diploma (26%).

Attitudinally hesitancy peaks among those who lack confidence in the vaccines’ safety (57%) and effectiveness (52%). It’s 33% among those who think they have no risk of getting sick from the coronavirus and essentially the same (32%) among those who see getting vaccinated as personal choice rather than a broader responsibility.

By contrast, hesitancy is lowest among those with a post-graduate degree (6%), liberals (6%), Democrats (4%), those who’ve been encouraged to get vaccinated by people close to them (4%), those with confidence in the vaccines’ effectiveness (4%) or safety (2%) and those who see getting vaccinated as a broader responsibility (1%).

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2021, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,006 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-24-36%, Democrats-Republicans-independents. In addition to traditional sample weights for age, race/ethnicity, sex and education, results were adjusted to reflect CDC vaccination rates.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Maryland. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

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