In a time when polling informs public policy more than ever, it’s important to get it right, but too often, polls can give the wrong impression, which seems to be the case with a recent poll on COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
“Majorities of Americans now favor requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to travel by airplane, stay in a hotel, attend events with large crowds, dine in a restaurant and go to their office or work site,” according to the respected polling firm Gallup. With the COVID-19 pandemic remaining doggedly persistent and faced with underwhelming vaccination rates, Americans are purportedly ready for more drastic changes. “If it came to a national referendum, these vaccination proof requirements would win,” Gallup’s announcement read.
Online responses to the news were predictable. One commenter wrote, “It is easy to forget inside the Internet bubble how unpopular and extreme most Republicans (sic) positions really are.” Another lamented, “This is what the majority of us want, but that isn’t what the GOP wants.” The worsening partisan vitriol and hyperbole may be commonplace these days—especially on social media—but the degree to which it has devolved is a newer development. What isn’t new is that the devil is generally in the details, and it seems that some at Gallup and many commenters may have missed the point.
For starters, I have no doubt that a growing number of Americans support some form of vaccine requirements. To find out how many, Gallup asked respondents, “Would you favor or oppose businesses requiring people to show proof of coronavirus/COVID-19 vaccination in order to do the following over the next several months?”
Gallup then inquired about a range of activities: 61 percent supported vaccine proof for air travel, 53 percent to stay at a hotel, 56 percent to go into the office, 58 percent to attend large events and 53 percent for indoor dining. Unsurprisingly, support for vaccine mandates largely comes from already-vaccinated individuals.
Just to emphasize my point, the question Gallup asked is whether respondents would support businesses requiring proof of vaccination. So, this would evidently be done on private companies’ own accord, but somehow, that was lost. Gallup subsequently reported that their poll was evidence that a referendum to impose such vaccine mandates would pass, but referendums and private business policies are two very different things. Referendums set law and empower the government to impose it. Yet Gallup didn’t survey support for government-enforced vaccine mandates in this poll, but rather whether respondents would favor private companies that adopt such requirements of their own volition.
Despite this, after applauding the survey results related to voluntary vaccine measures, Twitter trolls were quick to blame Republicans for the lack of vaccine requirements that were included in the poll, but their criticism seems off base. In fairness, Republicans comprise a much larger portion of vaccine skeptics and tend to be less than thrilled with businesses that choose to enforce COVID-19 restrictions. But while the party has experienced a makeover over the past several years, there was a time when support for free markets was central to the party, and for some, it still is.
While a free market ethos means different things to different people, at its basis, it purports that governments are often not best-positioned to create and impose blanket regulations, individuals and companies are. As such, if you were to ask free marketeers whether they support most private companies’ right to determine whether or not to require vaccines, the answer would be an emphatic yes—meaning many from the GOP are likely amenable to this notion. That doesn’t mean that every Republican would patronize those particular businesses, but many would absolutely support their freedom to institute vaccine policies.
Some private institutions are already imposing vaccine mandates too. Various colleges are requiring that students be inoculated, some businesses have announced that their employees must get the jab and others are rolling out policies that mandate vaccinations in order to return from remote work environments. It seems that it is only a matter of time until many companies ask patrons to also provide vaccination proof in order to enter particular brick and mortar businesses.
This isn’t a major problem for free marketeers because the free market has an answer for this. If you are a customer and don’t like those policies, you’re free to vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere. Alternatively, if you like the policy, then continue shopping there. It’s that easy.
So, would Americans support government-imposed blanket vaccine mandates, which seems to be the crux of the misplaced discussion around the Gallup poll? Maybe. However, I’d imagine that many free marketeers would have deep concerns with such edicts, but despite what some people think, that was not the topic of the Gallup poll.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.