Poll finds coronavirus vaccines could be a hard sell in Texas

Less than half of Texas voters say they’d get a coronavirus vaccine if one were widely available Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

By ROSS RAMSEY,  Texas Tribune

If a vaccine against the coronavirus became available at a low cost, 42% of Texas registered voters said they would try to get it, and 36% said they wouldn’t, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

That’s a significant drop from the 59% who said in a UT/Texas Politics Project poll in June that they would get vaccinated against the disease.

Voters are also skeptical about the quality of such a vaccine: 41% said they think a coronavirus vaccine will be made available before it is proven safe and effective.

Republicans were more likely to believe a vaccine will be proven safe before it’s released, but less likely to get vaccinated. While only 30% said an unproven medicine would be made available, only 38% said they would try to get it once it’s out. A majority of Democrats — 51% — said they think a vaccine would be introduced before it’s proven. But 51% said they would get a vaccine that’s widely available at a low cost.

“The people who were most concerned about this either have doubts when the person that they are most suspicious of in all of American politics begins to promise a quick vaccine,” said James Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “Or they are people who were already skeptical about the seriousness of the virus in the first place, and whose skepticism has been encouraged for months on end by the same leadership.

“Neither of those groups seems particularly eager to get a vaccine when it comes out,” he said. “It’s a public health disaster.”

That same split — with Republicans and Democrats coming to the same level of skepticism for different reasons, was also striking to Daron Shaw, a UT-Austin professor of government who co-directs the poll with Henson.

“I think part of it is just a general skepticism about taking anything that might expose you to some low-grade strain of the virus — just a traditional kind of vaccine resistance,” he said. “But I think it gets mixed in with politics, with Democrats saying [President Donald] Trump will rush this through.

“More people think it’s going to be made available before it’s ready than don’t. Talk about a crisis of trust in government,” Shaw said.

Which activities feel safe

Texans are slowly getting more comfortable with specific activities outside of their homes, with most willing to shop for groceries, vote, get haircuts, go to work, stay in hotels, eat out and go to church. Planes, movies, gyms, bars and protests remain off limits for most of the voters. The poll asked registered voters how they feel about the safety of some pre-pandemic norms:

  • Go grocery shopping, 80%
  • Vote in person, 75%
  • Get a haircut, 66%
  • Go to work, 64%
  • Stay in a hotel, 62%
  • Eat at a restaurant, 56%
  • Attend church, 50%
  • Go to a shopping mall, 49%
  • Ride in an elevator, 48%
  • Send your child to school, 45%
  • Attend a sporting event or concert at an outdoor stadium, 41%
  • Fly on an airplane, 39%
  • Go to a movie theater, 37%
  • Go to a gym or health club, 35%
  • Attend a sporting event or concert in an indoor arena, 29%
  • Go to a bar or club, 28%
  • Go to protests or demonstrations, 27%

“Everybody feels safer,” Henson said, noting that Republicans and young people are more likely to be easing back into these activities. “Some people are less accommodating than others. It goes back to their predisposition.”

And Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin, pointed to a change of particular interest in an election season: “Voting in person increased from June to October. It does seem that the vast majority of Texans thinks it’s okay to go vote, either early or on Election Day.”

Shaw pointed out the ground left to cover before Texans return to doing the things they were doing before the beginning of the pandemic. “We’re not close to being back to normal. That’s what I’m reading here,” Shaw said. “Four out of five say it’s safe to go the grocery store, and that’s the high end.”

Getting out of the house

Most Texans are being careful about leaving home during the pandemic, but the number “only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to” is half what it was last April. Then, 63% of registered voters were staying home except for urgent errands. Now, that’s 32%, a cohort of stay-at-home Texans that includes 46% of Hispanic voters, 33% of Black voters and 27% of white voters.

Almost as many, 27%, said they are “living normally, coming and going as usual.” In April, only 9% were out and about. The biggest group now — 40% of the voters — said they are “still leaving my residence, but being careful when I do.”

Among white voters, 73% said either that they were coming and going normally, or being careful when they leave their homes. Among Black voters, 66% said they’re behaving that way, although they were less likely to say they were acting as they did before the pandemic. Hispanic voters are more wary: 50% said they’re getting out of their homes when it’s not absolutely necessary.

About one in four voters said they’ve had conflicts with family or close friends about the precautions they’re taking in response to the pandemic. Younger people were more likely to report that kind of friction. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 38% said they’ve had conflicts, and 35% of 30- to 44-year-olds said the same. Only 20% of 45- 64-year-olds reported conflicts with family and friends, and only 17% of voters over 65 years of age did.

Taking precautions

Texans say they’re doing the things the health professionals have advised, wearing masks (87%), washing their hands (87%), avoiding other people as much as possible (74%) and large groups in particular (83%). Just over two-thirds (68%) said they are avoiding touching their faces.

While there are differences from one group to another, the vast majority of Texans — regardless of party, gender, ethnicity or other demographic lines — said they’re following the protocols.

Masks, which have become politically charged symbols of responses to the pandemic, illustrate that. Virtually all Democrats (98%) said they’re wearing masks when in close contact with people outside their own households. Among Republicans, 78% said the same — a lower percentage, but still a huge majority. Men (83%) were less likely than women (90%) to say they’re wearing masks, but the vast majority are. Among white voters, 83% said they’re wearing masks; 89% of Black voters and 96% of Hispanic voters said the same.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.