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Vaccines are shifting public perception of COVID-19 — in a good way

41% of American voters who have been vaccinated think the worst of the pandemic is behind us

A pharmacist prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Summit Senior Living in Kearns on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.
A pharmacist prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Summit Senior Living in Kearns on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Recent polling by Scott Rasmussen shows that increasing numbers of Americans think the worst of the pandemic is behind us.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has dramatically decreased pessimism about the coronavirus pandemic. A survey I conducted this past weekend found that 33% of voters believe the worst of the pandemic is behind us while 40% believe the worst is still to come.

Among the still relatively small number of voters who have already been vaccinated, a plurality (41%) now believes the worst is behind us.

While the overall numbers still reflect a slightly pessimistic assessment, the numbers represent a remarkable turnaround since vaccine distribution has become a reality. Last October, just before the presidential election, 56% of voters believed the worst was yet to come. That pessimistic view grew to 68% just a few weeks after the election and remained above 60% for the rest of the year.

So, the number with a pessimistic view has fallen 28 percentage points — from 68% to 40%— in just a couple of months.

On the flip side, the number who believe the worst is behind us has nearly doubled — from 18% in late November to 33% in late January.

A plurality of Republicans (43%) now believes the worst is behind us while a plurality of Democrats (48%) believes the worst is still to come.

One reason for declining pessimism is a relatively low level of fear about the virus itself. If they were to test positive for COVID, two-thirds of voters (67%) believe they are likely to recover quickly. Just 17% think a quick recovery would be unlikely.

That confidence is reflected in the lack of urgency many feel about getting vaccinated. While nearly half (47%) have been vaccinated or want to be as soon as possible, 49% aren’t in much of a hurry. That total includes 21% who want to wait and see how the vaccine works on others, 14% who see no particular rush to get vaccinated and 14% who say they will never get vaccinated.

The declining level of pessimism is leading to growing support for easing restrictions. When asked about conditions where they live, 49% say it’s time to ease restrictions so that individuals have more choice to decide appropriate safety measures and social distancing. Just 33% believe the appropriate response is to increase lockdowns so that mayors and governors can determine what is best for the community at large.

The results are similar when asked about the Biden administration policies. Nearly half (47%) of all voters worry that it will go too far in restricting personal behavior to fight COVID. Roughly a third (32%) are more worried that the new White House team will not go far enough.

Not surprisingly, these questions also elicit a strong partisan response. Most Democrats (54%) favor increasing lockdowns and 50% fear the administration won’t go far enough when imposing restrictions. Republicans strongly disagree. Seven out of ten GOP voters believe that it’s time to ease restrictions in their area and also fear that the Biden team will impose too many restrictions. Independent voters tend to lean in the GOP direction on these questions.

While pessimism is declining and the desire to ease restrictions is growing, there’s still a strong sense of underlying concern. Among those who have already had the vaccine, just 38% have increased their level of social interaction.

Among all voters, just 37% are comfortable going out in public without a mask or expect to be comfortable very soon. At the other end of the spectrum, 36% believe it will be at least six months before they are comfortable going mask free in a public setting.

These numbers and attitudes are almost certain to shift in the coming weeks and months. The changes are likely to be driven by real world experience with the vaccines. Already, half of those who haven’t been vaccinated know someone who has. If the vaccines work as hoped, the word will spread fast and optimism will grow.

Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”