Vaccine mandates represent winning politics

Posted on September 22, 2021

More than 73 percent of adults, including 86 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans, have taken at least one shot of the COVID vaccine. Only about 40 percent of children over 11 years old are vaccinated so far and, of course, we haven’t begun on children 11 and under.

To get our nation back to “normal,” we need something like 85-to-90 percent vaccinated to achieve “herd immunity.” This seems almost like a hopeless goal because, according to an Ipsos poll, 20 percent of adults say they are “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to get the COVID vaccine.

In short, our social and economic well-being is being held hostage by a fairly small minority, even a minority of Republicans. We have to be careful or abstain altogether from indoor restaurants, bars, concerts, movies and casual shopping, in addition to personal and business travel. Many of our workplaces remain unsafe, and senior citizens – even those who are vaccinated – may be unsafe around anyone.

America shouldn’t be in this position. Vaccines are both free and available to everyone. If the unvaccinated were vaccinated by now, as they should be, we’d all be pretty darn safe. So, it is no surprise that Americans are growing increasingly impatient and angry toward the unvaccinated.

The purpose of this column is to suggest that the impatience and anger is going to skyrocket as soon as the weather pushes Americans indoors and COVID infection rates climb – just as COVID rates rollercoastered last fall and winter. When it comes to frustration with anti-vaxxers, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It is self-evident that mandating or strongly encouraging vaccination and the use of masks is essential policy in 2021 and 2022. But, as President Biden seems to understand, it’s also excellent politics.

As Republican strategist Rob Stutzman told The Atlantic:

“Voters are looking at this through a personal lens, not a political lens. If I’m vaccinated, I’m really annoyed that we’ve had a second surge that was made worse because of the unvaccinated. And I’m annoyed because that means I have to put a mask back on and I have kids in school who are now at risk.”

Longtime Republican pollster and message framer Frank Luntz agreed, pointing out that while Republicans don’t like the government telling them what to do:

“…they’re even more afraid of the government allowing people who are standing beside them, traveling with them, working with them, and partying with them to give them COVID.’’

Polls are just starting to reflect a shift. For example, a recent Fox News poll shows that three quarters of registered voters are “extremely” or “very” concerned about the pandemic, a 5-point increase from August. Those Americans support vaccine mandates for teachers by 61-to-36 percent, for federal government workers by 58-to-40 percent, for business employees by 56-to-41 percent, and for all indoor activities like restaurants by 54-to-44 percent.

Now put yourselves in the shoes of vaccinated Americans, shoes in which you presumably fit. You suffered through more than a year of unabated pandemic, with a series of lockdowns, mandates and downright scary situations. You probably know people who got sick and maybe some who died. When the vaccines became available, you were relieved and looking forward to a normal life, starting in the summer of 2021. And then right-wing spokespeople started attacking the vaccines with no scientific justification whatsoever, the vaccine became a “partisan” issue, and, at the worst possible time, the Delta variant hit.

Think about it. With 20 percent of Americans acting as anti-vaxxers, there is no prospect of COVID getting better and, with colder months coming soon, the pandemic is almost certain to get a lot worse.

Not only will a larger portion of vaccinated voters support mandates, most will support such measures intensely. At the state and local levels, wait a few weeks and you’ll see. And then you should start enacting additional vaccine and mask mandates. The only voters who will oppose such measures are the ones who’d never support you anyway.