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A Florida survey shows the political divide over COVID-19 is strong

Empty vials of the Johnson & Johnson's one-dose COVID-19 vaccine
Mary Altaffer
/
AP
A USF associate professor found that two years after the wide release of COVID-19 vaccines, there are still high levels of belief in misinformation.

A survey by the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs asked 2,500 people how they felt about the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The poll, which was released days after the third anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, asked questions ranging from "how much of a risk do you think COVID is?" to "do you think the vaccine contains microchips?"

The survey was conducted by Stephen Neely, an associate professor at USF. He said that two years after the release of vaccines to the public, there are still high levels of belief in misinformation.

More than 32% of the people surveyed said they were either "not very" or "not at all confident" that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe; 25% said they believed that the vaccine alters your DNA, and about 13% said the vaccines contain microchips.

Over 67% of the respondents were "very confident" or "somewhat confident" that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe.

Neely said that there is a bigger, overarching cause for the differences in opinion: politicization.

"It still remains a deeply partisan political issue. And it really shows and highlights the degree to which politics has encroached on public health and public health policy," said Neely, "And the extent to which that has really created two separate experiences, perceptions, and interpretations of the pandemic."

Neely added that other surveys he did near the outset of the pandemic suggested a level of politicization that he thought would dissipate as information became better understood.

But the latest numbers suggest that it still remains a deeply political issue, with Republicans and Democrats strongly differing in opinion on almost every question.

"One of the problems we see is that trust and confidence in public health officials has become a partisan issue. About 36% of people in our survey said that they're not very confident in the guidance being offered by the CDC. Well, that's even higher when you start looking at political differences," Neely said.

While 89% of Democrats polled were very or somewhat confident in such guidance, that number dips to 62% among Independents, and 43% among Republicans.

"If we haven't learned by now that dividing into two groups and yelling at each other isn't very effective, then I'm not sure when we're going to learn that," said Neely. "But it's not going to help to resolve any of these problems. We need a little bit of patience and empathy with one another as we have these very complicated and very, literally life-and-death discussions."

The survey spoke to 2,500 American adults via an online web panel between February 27 and March 9. The poll was reported with a margin of error of +/- 1.96% and a confidence level of 95%.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Thomas Ouellette