A majority of Minnesotans support mask mandates in K-12 schools to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but they are sharply divided on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for work, dining out or attending entertainment events, according to a new Minnesota Poll.
Opposition to mask and vaccine mandates largely falls along political and geographic lines and comes despite 80% of the 800 registered voters in the poll saying they've received at least first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
The poll, sponsored by the Star Tribune, KARE, MPR and FRONTLINE, was conducted Sept. 13-15 amid a fourth COVID-19 wave of infections and hospitalizations and the restart of K-12 classes.
Joyce Vogt, an 85-year-old retired Pentagon and Army computer specialist, said "I follow the science" and was among the 72% of voters in the poll who were "very" or "somewhat" confident in the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I had a friend that said, 'Oh, the COVID, it's just a big farce,' " she said. "Well, we went to her husband's funeral. He got COVID."
Her uncertainty about mandates reflected the poll results, though. Only 43% of voters favored vaccine mandates to enter workplaces while 44% supported them for bars and restaurants and 49% agreed with their use in concert and sporting venues — where large groups are packed in tight seating.
Vogt supported vaccine mandates only for entertainment venues. She also opposed a mask mandate at schools that she said would be poorly enforced and distract from learning.
A majority 59% of those polled favored mask mandates for schools — with support at 92% among Democrats and 32% among Republicans.
Veterinarian Susan Bierman of Lakeville supported a school mask mandate and said she is disappointed that politics have pushed people against effective COVID-19 mitigation measures — likening them to commonly accepted laws that protect public health by requiring seat belts and prohibiting drunken driving.
The 65-year-old mother of four argued that the end of Minnesota's mask-wearing mandate this May was premature and that the prolonged pandemic has been hard on health care providers — including two daughters, one a doctor and one a nurse.
"We would be further along the path of [overcoming] the pandemic," she said, "if more people would buy into protecting their neighbors and getting vaccinated."
Among the voters, 30% felt Minnesota or their local communities had gone "too far" in their pandemic responses. The state response over the past 18 months included two emergency stay-at-home orders, an indoor mask mandate that lasted 10 months, enforcement actions against bars or restaurants that flouted that mandate and $100 COVID-19 vaccination incentives.
Only 8% of Democrats felt the local response went "too far," compared with 46% of Republicans and 52% of voters for former President Donald Trump in the last election. While 36% of those polled in Hennepin and Ramsey counties felt the COVID-19 response didn't go far enough, 42% of northern Minnesota voters said it went too far.
Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., surveyed 800 registered Minnesota voters by cellphone and landline. The margin of sampling error for the poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Jeff Hoffmann of Hugo respected Gov. Tim Walz's poise during the pandemic but opposed his shutdown orders and state mask mandate — though he wears masks out of respect for others when asked to do so.
Hoffmann also had his two daughters take COVID-19 tests and quarantine themselves after viral exposures, but he said people should take such steps out of personal responsibility rather than because the government forced them to do so. The work-from-home IT consultant thought he was at low risk for infection but sought vaccine at the prompting of his wife, who works in health care, and to protect his elderly parents.
"Given our country's political climate, with tensions running high in mainstream and social media, I'm concerned monetary incentives and more mandates are only fueling more mistrust of government overreach," he said.
Hoffmann attended a funeral of someone who died by suicide and wonders if isolation during pandemic lockdowns contributed to the young person's depression.
The poll results showed that vaccinated people had diverse opinions about mandates and school mask-wearing, whereas unvaccinated people were unified in their opposition. Zero unvaccinated voters polled favored vaccine mandates in event venues and offices.
The poll was taken days after President Joe Biden announced that workers in large businesses will need to be fully vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus. Minnesota has no vaccine or mask mandates in effect, but some businesses and entertainment venues have enacted requirements.
Orchestra Hall on Monday started requiring attendees show proof of vaccinations or recent negative COVID-19 tests. First Avenue in Minneapolis has a similar requirement, and the Guthrie Theater is adding one at month's end.
Support for vaccine and school mask mandates was stronger among the oldest adults 65 and older and the youngest adults age 18 to 34 in the poll, along with women, college graduates and urban residents.
The 80% first-dose vaccination rate among adults in the poll compares closely with the first-dose rate of 76.1% in adults 18 and older in Minnesota, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Observers nationally said polls on COVID-19 vaccination numbers provide helpful tests that they are providing meaningful and accurate estimates, because they can be compared with the readily available federal immunization data.
Participants in the poll were anonymous unless they agreed to share their identities for follow-up interviews. Unvaccinated poll participants included a business executive, construction contractor, accountant and school board member. Unvaccinated participants had little confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccines, although 11.5% were "very" or "somewhat" confident in them. Among immunized participants in the poll, only 10.5% said they had little or no confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines they had received.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744