Number who think the worst of the pandemic is over shoots up

March 12, 2021, 5:55 PM UTC

As vaccinations increase and as case and death rates decrease, Americans are feeling much better about where things stand in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many believe the end may be in sight. In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, 44% say the worst of the pandemic is now past, more than twice as many as worry that the worst is yet to come (18%) or that we are currently in the worst phase (16%).

Worry that things could get worse peaked with surges in cases and deaths, first seen in June and July last year, and then again in the fall, lasting through the holidays.  But Americans believe things have definitely turned around, though there are still concerns among some groups.  

A plurality of Democrats say the worst is behind us (35%), but this is only half as many as the number of Republicans (62%) who believe this. Black Americans, who have been especially hard hit by the pandemic, are as likely to believe the worst is yet to come (27%) as to say the United States has left the worst behind (27%).   

There are good reasons for Americans to believe the worst is over. Deaths, hospitalizations, and COVID-19 diagnoses are down nationwide, and the percent of adults who have received vaccinations is continuing to climb. In this week’s poll, 18% of adults say they have received at least one dose.  

Who has been vaccinated so far? 

But there are inequalities in who has received the vaccine. Nearly a third of white college graduates (30%) have been vaccinated, but only 14% of Blacks and 10% of Hispanics have. Democrats are 10 points more likely than Republicans to have been vaccinated (25% vs 15%), and 18 points more likely to say they will be (51% vs 33%).  

The better off you are financially, the more likely you are to have been vaccinated. One-quarter of Americans with a household income above $100,000 (25%) have been vaccinated, compared to 14% of those with an income below $50,000. 

Age clearly matters in vaccination intention. Two in five (43%) adults 65 and older say they have received the vaccine. Combined with the senior citizens who say they will be vaccinated, nearly three in four (73%) of those 65 or older are either vaccinated (43%) or willing to get vaccinated (30%). Older Americans haven’t always been that willing. Not until mid-November 2020 did even half (53%) of those 65 and older say they would get vaccinated. But as the vaccine rollout happened, many got vaccinated and even more said they would. 

The public also believes the vaccine is coming quickly.  Fewer this week than ever before say the vaccine rollout is too slow (43%), and most of those who want to take the vaccine believe it will be ready for them by this summer (62%).  

Republicans are especially vaccine-skeptical 

Republicans and Democrats have identical expectations that the vaccine will be available to them by summertime (66% of both groups), while most older Americans not yet vaccinated think that they will be by the spring (70%).

There remains, however, the one in five adults who reject vaccination (22%). Republicans are particularly skeptical, with more than a third (38%) rejecting the vaccine compared with just one in ten Democrats (10%). For many who reject the vaccine, it is a matter of trust – or the lack of it. When asked why they would not be vaccinated and allowed to put it in their own words, respondents cited distrust in the vaccine and in the government.  

There is also rejection of the seriousness of the virus. Some of those who won’t be vaccinated say the survival rate from COVID-19 is extremely high, so the vaccine is not necessary. Some note that the flu shot doesn’t always work, so why should the COVID-19 vaccine? Others put more trust in their own immune system than in a vaccine.  

Those who are skeptical of vaccinations also reject other COVID-19 precautions. Just 31% of those who would currently refuse a vaccine always wear a facemask when outdoors, compared with 73% of those who plan to get vaccinated. One in seven (15%) never wear a facemask, compared with only 2% of those planning to be vaccinated. 

Related: By 37% to 29%, Democrats want New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign 

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 Adult Citizens interviewed online between March 6 - 9, 2021. 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 2.7% for the overall sample  

Image: Getty