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Where Utahns stand on President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, legal challenges

New poll reveals sharp partisan divide over vaccine mandate

President Joe Biden talks about the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 in Washington.
President Joe Biden talks about the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Nov. 3, 2021.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

As President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large U.S. employers remains on hold in the courts, a solid majority of Utahns say they oppose the directive and, likewise, support legal action to block it from going into effect.

But when filtered by political affiliation, the results from a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll reflect a stark divide on vaccine issues between Utah Democrats and Republicans.

The statewide survey found 58% of respondents strongly or somewhat oppose the Biden vaccine mandate that was issued in November, while 37% support the order and 4% weren’t sure of their position. When parsed by self-identified political affiliation, 78% of state Republicans somewhat or strongly oppose the Biden mandate while 80% of Utah Democratic respondents say they somewhat or strongly support the plan. Unaffiliated voters were close to equally divided on mandate.

Poll participants also shared their opinions on Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ decision to join a group of other states in filing a lawsuit looking to block the mandate just a day after it was officially issued by Biden. When asked if they support or oppose Reyes’ decision to make Utah a participant in the federal appeals court action, 53% of those polled say they support the legal action, 40% oppose it and 6% told pollsters they didn’t know.

The partisan split on this issue was similarly broad with 70% of Utah Republicans in somewhat or strong support of the Reyes lawsuit and 78% of state Democrats somewhat or strongly opposing the move. Unaffiliated respondents were essentially split on the issue.

The poll conducted Nov. 18-30 by Dan Jones & Associates of 812 Utah registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.44 percentage points.

Tanner Davies receives a COVID-19 vaccination at a NOMI/TestUtah vaccination site in Lindon on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.
Tanner Davies receives a COVID-19 vaccination at a NOMI/TestUtah vaccination site in Lindon on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

For GOP elected official Reyes, who also has Utah participating as a co-plaintiff in separate federal lawsuits targeting vaccine-or-test mandates for federal contractors and health care workers, the poll results confirm the position he has taken on the issue, according to a spokesman.

“The poll results affirm the state’s position that most Utahns object to the federal government requiring the vaccine for millions of businesses and their employees,” said Richard Piatt, Reyes’ spokesman. “The cases involving health care workers, private employers and federal contract employees are not about whether you should get a vaccine, they’re about whether you should be forced to get one.”

But Utah Democratic leaders argue that Biden’s vaccine directive is about protecting workers and expediting an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and characterized Reyes’ legal positioning as a costly misuse of Utah taxpayer money.

“President Biden’s testing mandate (with a vaccination opt-out) for businesses with over 100 employees will protect workers, keep our historic economic recovery going, and help to finally put an end to the pandemic,” said a spokesman for the Utah Democratic Party. “Republican leadership has shown no willingness to even acknowledge the ongoing danger of COVID-19, and they would rather spend taxpayer dollars on an expensive and wasteful lawsuit than put forward their own plan to end the pandemic and support our economic recovery.”

Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.
Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes, pictured here during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City July 22, 2021.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandates, detailed last month, cover about 100 million workers or two-thirds of the U.S. workforce, administration officials said, with about 80 million of those employed by private sector businesses.

Under the plan, companies with 100 or more employees would have to require their workers to be vaccinated or undergo at least weekly COVID-19 testing. Failure to comply with the rules could lead to penalties up to $14,000 per violation.

Utah polling on sentiment related to Biden’s efforts to institute an employer-based mandate runs counter to national polling that has consistently found support for the executive order.

That includes a November national survey conducted by Morning Consult that found 55% of voters said they are in favor of requiring private employers to mandate vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing. Another 40% of voters oppose the rule and 5% said they don’t know or have no opinion. Like data gathered in the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute polling, Morning Consult found Democrats largely support the requirement, while Republicans largely oppose it.

Separate executive orders on vaccine-or-test requirements are directed at U.S. health care facilities that receive federal funding and companies that contract with the federal government.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office is involved in efforts to block each of those directives and all three are currently awaiting judicial action in different federal appeals courts.

The lawsuit targeting Biden’s employer-based mandate was filed in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and earned a stay from the body but was later consolidated with other complaints and moved to the 6th Circuit. Court watchers say a ruling on the matter is likely to come before the end of the year.

Last week, the U.S. Senate narrowly passed a mostly symbolic resolution to overturn the regulation. Two centrists Democrats joined all 50 Republicans, including Utah GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, in approving the measure.

The House is not expected to consider the resolution, which aims to nullify the executive order mandating vaccine-or-test requirements on large U.S. employers. Administration officials said Biden would veto it should it reach his desk.

Lee has been a stalwart on the issue and has stood on the Senate floor at least 20 times in the past few weeks trying every way possible to counter Biden’s mandate requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or tests negative for the virus. All of his proposals failed due to objections from Democrats.

But, Lee said the findings of the Deseret News’ latest polling show Utahns agree with his stance that the Biden directive infringes on individual rights.

“Utahns agree that dictating health care choices from Washington, D.C., using government to force those with dissenting viewpoints into unemployment, is not how Utahns address challenges,” Lee said in a statement to the Deseret News. “And with good reason: the Constitution doesn’t allow it. By respecting our fellow citizens, especially those with whom we disagree, we will get through this pandemic in the way we always have — together.”