Jan. 2022 VPR-Vermont PBS Poll: Gov. Scott is still popular, and more COVID mitigation measures are, too
January has seen some of the most challenging days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Vermont. Case counts have far surpassed even the most pessimistic forecasts of a post-holidays surge. Some hospitals have been postponing elective procedures and relying on help from FEMA. School and child care closures have pushed many parents to a breaking point.
But Gov. Phil Scott remains quite popular, and receives high marks for his handling of the pandemic, according to a new poll from Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS that was in the field from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9.
Scott has a 60% approval rating, and 68% of respondents approve of the way he has handled the pandemic, with only 22% opposed.
Those numbers are down slightly from the sky-high levels Scott enjoyed in the early days of the pandemic. Scott had a 68% job approval rating in a September 2020 poll, and 83% approved his handling of the pandemic in July 2020.
But deep into Scott’s third term in office, the latest numbers represent another indication of his enduring popularity.
Though they still back Scott, poll respondents say they are ready for the state to take more aggressive measures to curb the pandemic than the Republican governor has been willing to undertake, including a mask mandate and some vaccine requirements. And the poll has some concerning news for President Joe Biden.
This poll was supervised by Rich Clark, professor of political science and former director of the Castleton Polling Institute, and was conducted by Braun Research, Inc., a New Jersey firm. Pollsters interviewed 600 people via landline, cell phone, and a web survey sent via text. The poll has an overall margin of error of 4%.
Vermonters support a statewide mask mandate by a 58% to 36% margin. Scott has rejected pleas from health experts and Democratic lawmakers to take that step. Scott has said he is unconvinced that a mask mandate would persuade people who aren’t already wearing masks to don them. The poll found that 72% of people “always” or “usually” wear masks when visiting indoor public places, while 16% rarely or never do.
And the governor has said he is reluctant to re-institute a state of emergency, the legal mechanism that allows him to impose such mandates. A total of 26% of respondents said declaring a new state of emergency would be an “abuse of power,” while 56% called it a “reasonable response.”
Democrats in the Vermont Legislature have already introduced a mask mandate bill, though its prospects are unclear in the session’s early days.
And, while much of the debate in recent months has focused on masks, a majority of respondents support more aggressive requirements for vaccines.
For example: 60% of respondents say that public schools should eventually require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with 35% opposed.
Respondents were evenly split, at 47% apiece, on whether vaccines should be required for admission to restaurants, stores and other public places. Women were more supportive of vaccine requirements than men.
Vermont’s hospitals have reported increased strain in recent weeks, though they have preserved adequate ICU capacity thus far. The poll asked Vermonters whether “health care providers should prioritize vaccinated people,” over the unvaccinated, if “resources become scarce.”
By a 31% to 58% margin, respondents rejected that idea, an answer that was consistent across all demographic categories.
In a possible sign of trouble for national Democrats heading into the November midterm elections, President Joe Biden’s popularity has slipped well below 50% in Vermont. In 2020, Biden won Vermont’s three electoral votes with 66% of the vote, his best performance in any state. Now, just 45% of respondents approve of Biden’s work as president, with 43% disapproving. The president is more popular among women than men in Vermont.
Nationally, Biden’s approval rating stands at 40%, according to Rasmussen reports.
An early snapshot of the Vermont Democratic primary for a seat U.S. Congress shows the race is very unsettled. Of the declared candidates, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has 21% of support, with Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint at 7%.
Of the remaining respondents, 32% percent said they are unsure, and 30% are unlikely to vote in the Democratic primary. Among Democrats, Gray is ahead of Balint 36% to 13%.
From Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, the VPR-Vermont PBS 2022 Poll asked hundreds of Vermonters about their opinions on politicians, Vermont's response to COVID-19 and more. Explore part one of results here. The second part of the results will be released in early February.