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SDSU poll examines impact of COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy in South Dakota

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 1:02 PM CDT
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BROOKINGS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A new poll conducted by South Dakota State University found that opinions about COVID-19 as well as the vaccine aimed at stopping it remain widely varied in South Dakota, largely divided down political party lines.

The South Dakota Covid Impact Survey was conducted from April 12 through April 25 by The SDSU Poll, according to SDSU Assoc. Professor David Wiltse. During that time period, roughly half of South Dakotans over age 16 had received at least one vaccine dose. Over 3,000 South Dakota voters completed the survey, which asked questions about the effect of the pandemic on their lives, opinions on the vaccine, and political and religious affiliation.

Results of the survey are being released in multiple parts. The first, focusing on the impact of COVID-19, was published Monday. The second, which asked questions about vaccine hesitancy, was released Tuesday. A third, which will focus on the opinion of those who are already vaccinated, will be released Thursday.

Impact of COVID-19

The survey found nearly 96% of respondents knew someone who tested positive for COVID-19, over half knew someone who was hospitalized due to the coronavirus, and 38% knew someone who died from COVID-19.

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The poll found nearly all South Dakotans know someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The poll found nearly all South Dakotans know someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.(South Dakota State University)

Researchers also asked questions about coronavirus mitigation efforts. The study found people who were vaccinated were much more likely to wear masks and avoid large crowds. In addition, over half of vaccinated respondents said they were still at least somewhat concerned about contracting COVID-19, while nearly 80% of unvaccinated respondents said they were either “not very concerned” or “not concerned at all” about catching the virus.

Support of so-called vaccine passports, which would allow people who are vaccinated to move more freely, fell largely down political party lines. About 71% of self-identified Democrats said they are either “somewhat” or “very” supportive of vaccine passports, while the exact same percentage of Republicans were either “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed.

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Poll results showing support for vaccine passports were divided along party lines.
Poll results showing support for vaccine passports were divided along party lines.(South Dakota State University)

Regardless of opinions, vaccine passports have gained little traction in the U.S. Last month, President Joe Biden said his administration is not planning on requiring any sort of vaccine passport at a federal level.

Vaccine opinions

The second leg of the poll delved into opinions on COVID-19 vaccines and how they differed among different political and religious affiliations.

Respondents who identified as Democrats were much more likely to get vaccinated, with 81% saying they had already received the vaccine. Meantime, only 39% of Republicans and 43% of Independents had received the vaccine. Of respondents who identified as Evangelical or born-again Christians, only 37% received the vaccine.

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The poll looked at vaccination rates by political and religious affiliations.
The poll looked at vaccination rates by political and religious affiliations.(South Dakota State University)

Researchers say the road toward full vaccination is about to face an uphill climb. The study noted scientists estimate between 70% to 80% of the population needs to get vaccinated in order to get the pandemic under control, but reaching that goal “will not be an easy task.”

Only 20% of respondents who have not yet been vaccinated say they are “somewhat” or “very” likely to get the shot, while nearly half said they “very” unlikely to get vaccinated. This again was divided among party lines, with most unvaccinated Democrats saying they will get inoculated while only about one in eight unvaccinated Republicans plan to do so.

The poll found a shift in the main reason people are avoiding getting vaccinated. An SDSU poll published in October found the most common concerns among those who were hesitant about a potential vaccine were side effects or lack of concern about getting sick. The new poll found that while people are still worried about side effects, they are much more concerned about the unknown risks “due to the vaccine being too new.”

Researchers also analyzed what mind change the mind of those who are hesitant about the vaccine. A “survey experiment” conducted within the poll found that people who were presented with a message endorsing vaccines from either a political or medical figure were generally unmoved by the message. However, the experiment found respondents were much more responsive to messages from religious leaders.

“More analysis needs to be done, but this strongly suggests that religious leaders are the most effective messengers of the three we tested. This may be especially important to note given that Evangelical Christians have the lowest rates of vaccination or even interest in getting a vaccine,” the study noted.

A "survey experiment" found people who are hesitant about the vaccine are nearly twice as...
A "survey experiment" found people who are hesitant about the vaccine are nearly twice as likely to be open to a message from a religious leader supporting the vaccine, compared to political or medical messengers.(South Dakota State University)

The study listed Filip Viskupic PhD, David L. Wiltse PhD & Brittney Meyer PharmD as contributors.

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