Face mask wearing is up, but willingness to be vaccinated is not

December 21, 2020, 8:00 PM UTC

As COVID-19 cases rise, Americans remain worried. But the approval – and the start of the vaccine distribution to hospitals – may have made them more hopeful that the end to the pandemic is nearer. Republicans, who have been skeptical about the need for precautions, have begun to worry a little more, and they are taking steps that may help the country recover from the pandemic.  

In this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll, 44% of Republicans say they are at least somewhat worried about contracting the virus, a slight increase from last week. More important, however, is that Republicans are now more likely to be doing something about the threat from the virus. Half (50%) say they now always wear a face mask when out in public, up ten points in the last week (40%). 

There is a long way to go before the pandemic ends. Approval of emergency use for two vaccines in the United States may not bring a quick end to the pandemic, as many Americans who intend to get vaccinated do not expect a vaccine will be available for them until next summer or later (39%). But one in 11 (9%) anticipate getting vaccinated in the final weeks of this year, while 38% believe they will be able to get the shot by the spring of 2021. 

When it is available, many won’t take it. This week, only 41% of Americans say they will get vaccinated against COVID-19, while 31% say they will not (more than a quarter are unsure). Majorities of Democrats (62%), the college-educated (58%), and people with higher incomes (57%) say they will take the vaccine, as will older Americans: about half (51%) of those 65 and older will get vaccinated.  

In other groups the percentage willing to be vaccinated is less than half. Only one-third of 18-to 29-year-olds (33%) currently plan to get the vaccine. Three in 10 (30%) will not, and 36% are uncertain. Republicans are among the most likely to say they will not get vaccinated (43%) against COVID-19. About three in 10 Republicans (29%) intend to. 

Many Americans are not certain that there will be enough vaccine to go around. Men are more hopeful than women on this, and Republicans remain more hopeful than Democrats. About half (47%) of those who are unlikely to accept a vaccination are convinced there will not be enough vaccine available anyway. Even many of those who expect to receive the vaccine aren’t sure it will be there. Less than half in this group (46%) think there will be enough vaccine. 

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each had a role last week in the approval of the Pfizer- BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, with the Moderna vaccine also on track for approval. Both government agencies are trusted by most Americans for medical advice. The agencies fare better than the World Health Organization, which has been heavily criticized by the Trump Administration. Even still, about half of Americans (51%) trust the WHO.

Each agency is more trusted than either President Donald Trump or President-elect Joe Biden. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Center for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is also trusted, but evaluations of him have become very partisan. Republicans are more likely to distrust Fauci’s medical advice than to trust it. 

Assessments of President Trump on this issue continue to be negative – 54% disapprove of how he is handling the pandemic, and 38% approve. By 45% to 38%, the public is confident in President-elect Biden’s ability to handle the pandemic. 

Related: Election cases hurt the Supreme Court’s image among Republicans

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll  

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adults interviewed online between December 13 - 15, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.2% for the overall sample.  

Image: Getty