Health

Voters Were Barraged With COVID-19 News This Year. Relief Bill, the Delta Variant and U.S. Death Toll Broke Through Most

In a year of nonstop pandemic news, no single event associated with a surge in vaccine willingness

(Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice)

In a pandemic year that’s ending as it started — with the emergence of a mysterious new variant and a scramble by the White House to get people vaccinated — the COVID-19 story that broke through most to voters was a piece of legislation, not a pandemic milestone, according to a new Morning Consult analysis. What’s more, it doesn’t appear that any single major coronavirus news event in 2021 corresponded with a substantial uptick in voters’ willingness to get a shot.

Voters Heard More About Biden’s Relief Bill in March Than Any Other COVID-19 News in 2021
Top 15 health news events of 2021 involve vaccines, delta variant

The share of voters who heard “a lot” about the following pandemic-related news:

Polls conducted Jan. 15-Dec. 6, 2021, among about 2,000 registered voters each, with margins of error of +/-2%. Hover over data points to see the survey end date for each news item.

What you need to know

  • Across the 63 biggest COVID-19 news events of 2021, the three that broke through most to voters were President Joe Biden’s signing of the $1.9 trillion relief package in March, rising U.S. cases tied to the delta variant this summer and news that more than 500,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 in late February.
  • News salience shifted throughout the year. On average, about 34 percent of voters said they’d seen, read or heard “a lot” about major pandemic developments from January to March, while about 26 percent said the same for events that took place April through June. In the second half of the year, about 28 percent of voters said they’d heard a lot about COVID-19 news, on average.
Democrats Consistently More Likely Than GOP Voters to Have Heard a Lot About COVID-19 News
Among 63 COVID-19 news events, broad vaccine availability, delta variant’s risk to unvaccinated saw largest partisan gaps in news salience in 2021

The share of Republican and Democratic voters who heard “a lot” about the following pandemic-related news:

Polls conducted Jan. 15-Dec. 6, 2021, among about 2,000 registered voters each, with margins of error of +/-2%. Hover over data points to see the survey date for each news item.
  • There were major gaps in terms of what voters of each party said they’d heard a lot about, with Democrats typically saying they were keeping up with the news more closely. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats heard a lot about Biden’s announcement that all adults would be eligible for vaccination by April 19, for example, compared with 26 percent of Republicans who said the same.
  • Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say they’d heard a lot about five of the 63 issues in the polls, including when former President Donald Trump encouraged people to get vaccinated in March and reports in February that then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) downplayed the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the state’s nursing homes.

What you need to know

  • Getting millions of Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 has been a top priority across two White Houses, and officials have noted a recent increase in vaccinations, particularly booster shots, amid concerns over the omicron variant. Even so, voters’ overall willingness to get a shot didn’t jump after any one major news event in 2021 — not the global death toll of 4 million in July, the summer delta surge or the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE’s shot’s full regulatory approval.
  • Instead, vaccine willingness slowly ticked up this spring and summer before grinding to a halt in August. Since then, roughly 4 in 5 voters have said they’re vaccinated or planning to get a shot.
  • Democrats have consistently been more likely than their GOP counterparts to say they’d get vaccinated or had gotten a shot as the vaccines rolled out. That gap was widest in June, when Democrats were 30 percentage points more likely to favor vaccination, and nearly six months later it’s been bumped down to 21 points.

 

The polls were conducted Jan. 15-Dec. 6, 2021, among samples of about 2,000 registered voters each, with margins of error of 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult