Parents are more likely to oppose pandemic restrictions

Douglas RiversChief Scientist
August 30, 2022, 11:58 PM GMT+0

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of Americans over the past three years. At various times, restaurants, bars, gyms, offices, schools, and churches were all closed. Mask and vaccine mandates have been imposed. Changes of this magnitude typically have political fallout. A recent article by the New York Times featured interviews with 27 parents in California, some of whom said that pandemic mandates and restrictions — including masking, vaccines, and remote schooling — led them to switch their political allegiance from Democrats to Republicans. While a few anecdotes add up to little data, polls finding falls in support for Biden and the Democrats during much of the pandemic suggest that the phenomenon is more widespread. YouGov recently interviewed 1,000 Americans to find out how the pandemic has affected politics.

The answers are a bit surprising. The poll asked Americans whether they favor or oppose implementing five safety measures in the event of a future serious pandemic. The most popular measures, in this scenario, would be requiring face masks and banning foreign travel. Each of these would be favored by more than half of all adults — including more than half of both parents and non-parents — and opposed by less than a quarter of the population. Prohibiting large events, requiring vaccinations, and remote schooling also would each be favored by more people than would oppose them.

However, parents of school-age children are from 4 to 11 percentage points less likely to support each of these measures than other Americans are.

The differences we see — more support for anti-pandemic measures among people without school-age children — probably are due to parents of school-age children being more likely to be Trump voters, rather than anything to do with having a child in school or not. Parents of school-age children voted for Trump by a 34%-to-29% margin, according to the poll, while everyone else voted for Biden by a 37%-to-31% margin. However, some of the vote of parents with school-age children in November 2020 might also have reflected the pandemic's political effect up to that point. By then Democratic and Republican officials already had diverged in how they were handling pandemic safety measures.

There is a subtle partisan divide within the parties between parents of school-age children and everyone else. Biden voters who had school-age children are much more likely to oppose lockdowns than are non-parents who voted for Biden. For Trump voters, the differences between parents of school-age children and everyone else are fairly small; if there's any difference, it's in the opposite direction. Parenthood aside, Biden voters are more likely to favor mask and vaccine requirements as well as remote schooling, but Biden-voting parents of school-age children were a bit closer to Trump voters on these issues. On each of the five anti-pandemic measures polled about, support among Biden voters was at least 10 percentage points lower for parents of school-age children than for others. In the case of banning foreign travel, support was almost as low among Biden-voting parents of school-age children as among Trump voters overall.

— Taylor Orth, Carl Bialik, and Linley Sanders contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on August 3 - 5, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Kawee / Adobe Stock