As with masks, lockdowns and seemingly everything else about the COVID-19 pandemic, Republicans and Democrats are now sharply divided over the emerging prospect of “vaccine passports” designed to provide proof of immunization against the coronavirus, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
The survey of 1,649 U.S. adults, which was conducted from April 6 to April 8, found that a significant majority of Democrats (61 percent) would favor certain businesses requiring verification of vaccination from customers — while a near-identical share of Republicans (62 percent) would oppose such a requirement. (Forty-five percent of independents — a plurality — are also opposed.) As a result, Americans as a whole are evenly divided on the idea, with 39 percent for and 40 percent against.
Regardless of this split, vaccine passports may become a fact of life in post-pandemic America. In Israel, a “Green Pass” that allows vaccinated citizens to visit restaurants, concerts and sporting events is already in effect. U.S. universities such as Rutgers, Brown and Cornell have announced they will require proof of vaccination for students in the fall. This week, the Miami Heat became the first NBA team to cordon off “vaccinated only” sections. And according to the New York Times, at least 17 companies or nonprofits are developing verification websites or apps for use by businesses that are afraid customers will stay away unless they know other patrons have been inoculated.
According to the poll, not all Democrats favor vaccine passports, and not all Republicans are opposed; dissent from the prevailing partisan position on each side hovers around 20 percent, which is higher than usual for an otherwise polarized issue. And majorities of Americans do agree about the wisdom — or folly — of vaccine passports in some specific situations.
Chief among them is travel: Most Americans (58 percent) say they support governments requiring proof of vaccination for international travelers, while 53 percent say they favor airlines requiring similar verification on all flights. A plurality of Americans (45 percent) also say sports arenas should require fans to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination at games.
Meanwhile, a substantial majority of Americans (56 percent) oppose stores requiring proof of vaccination from shoppers, and a plurality (44 percent) also oppose such a requirement at indoor restaurants and bars. Just 35 percent favor vaccine passports for indoor drinking and dining.
The country is more evenly divided over other applications. Asked whether schools should require proof of COVID-19 vaccination from students, 41 percent say yes and 39 percent say no. (U.S. schools routinely require students to be vaccinated against other diseases.) The numbers are similar for venues such as movie theaters and concert halls: 41 percent yes and 40 percent no.
Yet the partisan pattern persists throughout, with Democratic majorities favoring vaccine passports in nearly every situation (from 53 percent for indoor drinking and dining to 77 percent for international travel) and at least a plurality of Republicans opposing them (from 48 percent for international travel to 65 percent for indoor drinking and dining). Stores are the only venue where more Democrats oppose vaccine passports (40 percent) than favor them (37 percent).
Sensing a political minefield, the Biden administration has so far deflected the issue of vaccine passports, vowing only to provide guidance for nongovernment initiatives in the days ahead.
“The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
Yet the Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests the White House could, in theory, play some role in the process. Asked whether “the U.S. government” — as opposed to U.S. businesses — should require “Americans to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination before participating in certain higher risk activities (travel, concerts, sports games, etc.),” more Americans say yes (46 percent) than no (37 percent).
Even so, policymakers hoping that a return to normal promised by passports could incentivize otherwise reluctant Americans to get vaccinated may want to reconsider. Although vaccine acceptance is at an all-time high in the U.S. — 62 percent of Americans say they either are already vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated “as soon as it is available to me” — the number of holdouts who say they would be less likely to get vaccinated (28 percent) if businesses required proof of vaccination from customers is more than twice as high as the number who say such a requirement would make them more likely to get vaccinated (12 percent).
Overall, just 4 percent of Americans say they’re not planning to get vaccinated but would be more likely to go through with it if businesses started to require vaccine passports.
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