Americans generally approve of Biden’s new vaccine mandates

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
September 16, 2021, 5:52 PM UTC

President Joe Biden announced new COVID-19 vaccine mandates last week in an effort to get hesitant Americans to receive shots. Despite protests among vaccine holdouts, the Economist/YouGov poll shows that the public generally approves of new orders instituting vaccine mandates for health care workers, most federal employees, and private companies with at least 100 employees — requiring weekly testing for most workers who remain unvaccinated. 

Biden has proposed mandates that are more moderate than some Americans would like to see. More than a quarter of Americans who approve of Biden’s vaccine mandates say the mandates should have been even more strict than they are.

Support for mandates is about the same even for mandates covering different groups of Americans. About six in ten adults nationally support vaccination mandates for medical providers, members of Congress, and teachers. Support slips, though not by much, for federal employees, K-12 students eligible to be vaccinated, and workers in companies with more than 100 employees

Republicans oppose many vaccine mandates, none more than the idea of mandating the vaccine or weekly testing for businesses with more than 100 employees (35% support, 51% oppose). That being said, more Republicans support than oppose vaccine mandates for medical providers and members of Congress.

More Democrats than Republicans are fully vaccinated, and vaccine mandate opinion changes with vaccination status like it does with political party. Perhaps unsurprisingly, fully vaccinated Americans (60% of adults in this poll) overwhelmingly support mandatory vaccinations for all groups of people they were asked about: teachers, eligible schoolchildren, medical providers, members of Congress, federal workers, and workers at businesses with more than 100 employees. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who have been vaccinated support mandatory vaccinations for all the polled groups.

Currently unvaccinated Americans oppose each of the polled vaccine requirements. One potential obstacle for vaccine mandates is that people who are not vaccinated give little indication in this poll that a mandate could change their minds and their behavior. Just 8% of people currently working or looking for work who are vaccine-hesitant or -resistant say they would become vaccinated if an employer required it as a condition of employment.

Americans tend to reject vaccine exemptions for many

Americans aren’t convinced by most potential reasons for people to be exempt from a vaccine mandate, besides a medical condition that would make a vaccine dangerous to that person. Three-quarters of Americans accept vaccine avoidance in this case, with nearly two-thirds of Democrats and four in five Republicans in agreement.

In other cases, Democrats and Republicans split sharply, as they do on many questions about vaccination. A majority of Democrats reject every option, except the medical condition. Most Republicans would accept any of the reasons offered for avoiding a vaccine mandate, including being afraid of needles — the one most firmly rejected by Americans overall.

Vaccination status makes a big difference on all these questions. People who are already vaccinated and not affected by the mandates are much less accepting of potential reasons for unvaccinated people to skip the shots. They would accept a medical exemption, and, to a lesser degree, a willingness to be tested weekly. Most vaccinated Democrats reject all the other justifications, as do Independents, though it is a close call on the religious exemption. Vaccinated Republicans would tend to allow exemptions for every reason except one — being afraid of needles. 

Less than half of Americans accept a religious objection as a valid reason to avoid getting a COVID shot, though it’s one of the potential exemptions most widely approved by Republicans.

Most Americans also lean against granting vaccine mandate exemptions for desire to not get vaccinated, a belief that vaccines are ineffective, or a fear of needles.

Biden’s order for companies with at least 100 companies allows for people to choose to get tested weekly for COVID-19 rather than getting vaccinated. Americans tend to be comfortable with giving unvaccinated Americans the choice of substituting weekly testing for vaccination.

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 September 12 - 14, 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