COVID

Poll shows vaccination status divides thinking of Massachusetts voters on COVID precautions, return to in-person activities

Vaccinated voters much more hesitant to return to once common in-person events, MassINC poll shows.

Home test kits stacked for delivery. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Living through a pandemic comes with many risks. Going out to pick up food, taking the train, and attending events are all times someone can catch COVID-19. But the decision to venture out is easier for some than others, according to a new poll.

Those who are unvaccinated are largely more comfortable eating out, attending events such as movies and sports games, and taking the train, the poll found, despite not having the protection offered by the vaccines. By contrast, those who are vaccinated or boosted are more hesitant about returning to activities that were commonplace pre-pandemic.

The poll conducted by MassINC in late December surveyed 1,026 registered voters in Massachusetts. The results showed how thinking surrounding COVID diverges between vaccinated and unvaccinated voters.

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The majority of people polled were vaccinated, with almost half of respondents being boosted, too. Specifically, 141 respondents were not vaccinated, 360 were, and 483, or 49%, were boosted. This is in keeping with Massachusetts’s relatively high vaccination rate.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated voters were united on one thing: The COVID-19 situation hasn’t improved much. Even after the distribution of millions of vaccines, a return to in-person work for some, and the reopening of schools, Massachusetts voters are, on the whole, pessimistic about the state of the pandemic.

Only 26% of voters statewide think COVID has improved over the past year. Two-thirds of voters think the situation is about the same (39%) or has gotten worse (27%). Vaccination status had very little impact on this — for unvaccinated, vaccinated, and boosted individuals alike two-thirds or more thought the situation had worsened or stayed the same.

For as similar as voters across vaccination statuses were in terms of the overall picture, they disagreed heavily when asked about specific scenarios.

For example, 71% of unvaccinated voters said they felt safe dining indoors, with 42% saying they felt “very safe.” This percentage fell among vaccinated and boosted voters —  62% of vaccinated voters and 54% of boosted voters felt safe dining indoors. The percentage that felt “very safe” fell even further with only 27% and 15% of vaccinated and boosted voters, respectively, reporting they felt “very safe.”

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This trend continued across other scenarios presented in the poll including attending a movie, concert, or theater performance, attending an indoor sporting event, and riding public transportation. When asked if they would feel safe going to a movie, concert, or theater performance, 49% and 36% of vaccinated and boosted voters, respectively, said they would, with only 16% of vaccinated voters and 9% of boosted voters reporting they would feel “very safe.” By contrast, 59% of unvaccinated voters felt safe overall in these settings, with 31% feeling “very safe.”

With a vaccine mandate in place, voters reported feeling a bit more comfortable, but it wasn’t a dramatic change. With regards to dining indoors, with the addition of a vaccine mandate, 69% of voters reporting feeling “very safe” or “somewhat safe,” as compared to 59% without a vaccine mandate.

The biggest shifts in comfort level were among vaccinated and boosted voters. For example, with a vaccine mandate in place, half of boosted voters and 63% of vaccinated voters felt “somewhat” or “very” safe going to a movie, concert, or theater performance. That is up from the 36% and 49% for boosted and vaccinated voters, respectively. Most of that increase comes in the “somewhat safe” category — there was only a 4 point increase for boosted voters (9% to 13%) and no change for vaccinated voters in the “very safe” category. The hesitancy among vaccinated and boosted voters may stem from the increased number of breakthrough cases the omicron variant has brought in the past few weeks.

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More than three-fourths of voters (84%) support providing free rapid tests to households in the state — a measure supported most by boosted voters. There is also strong support for reinstating a statewide indoor mask mandate, with almost two-thirds of voters (65%) strongly or somewhat supporting it.

When asked if they support stores and restaurants requiring proof of vaccination from customers, 56% of voters said they supported it. As is the case with all the poll questions about requiring proof of vaccination, the measure had less support among unvaccinated voters, with 17% of unvaccinated voters, 53% of vaccinated voters, and 73% of boosted voters supporting the measure.

Similarly, 65% of voters supported private businesses requiring proof of vaccination from employees working on-site and 67% supported requiring proof of vaccination for air and train travel.

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