April 18, 2024
Annapolis, US 64 F

AACC’s Fall Survey: Mixed Bag on COVID. Republicans and Democrats at Odds.

A survey of 489 Anne Arundel County residents conducted October 8-15 by Anne Arundel Community College found that compared to last spring, residents’ views about the pandemic have improved in some respects, but not in others. 

When asked to determine the most important problem facing county residents, only 35% cited COVID-19, down 18 points from last spring. By contrast, last spring 70% said that the COVID-19 situation was getting better; by fall only 49% agreed. 

When asked, “When do you think that COVID-19 will be significantly overcome as a pandemic in Maryland,” 32% said within six months or that it was already not much of a problem. However, 58% anticipated that it would take between six months and two years to overcome; another 9% said, “More than two years.” 

There was a small decrease in the percentage saying that they “were ‘very concerned’ about the possibility of someone in your family becoming seriously ill with the virus” (down from 35% last spring to just 27% in fall). 

Among major concerns affecting Anne Arundel County and Maryland, the top item was “having unvaccinated people prolong the pandemic and overload health facilities” cited by 54%, equal to the percentage citing “the quality of public education” – always a top concern. 

Regarding the reopening of Anne Arundel County Public Schools to in-person instruction, the public was about equally divided between the answer, “agree mostly or completely with this policy” of providing in-person instruction without a significant hybrid or online only option (42%) and “partly agree – would have preferred more options such as hybrid or online” (43%). 

On vaccinations, most respondents planned to get a booster when available (56%) or had already obtained it (14%). Among the vaccinated, very few claimed to have had severe side-effects (3%); 73% said the side-effects were mild or none at all. 

A higher percentage of residents claimed to have contracted the virus this fall (15%) compared to last spring (8%). A higher percentage said that a family member or close friend had come down with it (56% this fall, 47% last spring). 

The poll found respondents to be accepting the pace of reopening, with majorities for the county (53%) and state (57%) saying that the pace was “about right.” There was some growth in the percentages saying “too slow” (32% for the county; 26% for the state) than was true last fall (28 and 16%). For the federal government, 43% felt the pace was about right, while the largest proportion of all three jurisdictions said the pace was too slow (39%). 

The survey found the public generally favored the retention of masks and/or requiring proofs of vaccination at indoor venues such as dining, gyms or entertainment sites, but a solid third refused to accept any such restrictions. As has been revealed in the past, sharp partisan divisions exist about the pace and scope of adjustment to restrictions. For example, 55% of  Republicans wanted no restrictions at entertainment venues; 56% of Democrats wanted to require both masks and proofs of vaccinations. 

Similar deep polarization was found when considering President Joe Biden’s executive order that included requiring federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated without a testing option: overall, 59% supported that policy “mostly/completely” or “somewhat,” with Democrats at 88% and Republicans at 31%. 

The idea of requiring vaccinations for all school employees received strong overall support (69%) but was also sharply divided between parties (Democrats, 95%; Republicans, 45%). Requiring vaccinations for all eligible students was about equally popular – and polarizing (65% overall, Democrats, 95%; Republicans, 39%). 

Focusing on other county issues, a new item was offered for consideration – “The slow process of getting rental relief funds to tenants and landlords” – 21% thought that this was a very serious problem. 

Regarding the county budget, 42% said that they were very or somewhat familiar with it; 26% reported having researched the budget at the county’s website. 

Respondents were mixed about the county’s decision to spend unexpected revenues to shore up the long-term financial picture by adding to the “Rainy Day” or prepayments to retirement funds – 38% agreed, with others having different priorities. When asked about the establishment of a “climate resiliency authority” to borrow money and apply for grants, a majority favored it (52%). 

The survey asked about some national issues such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill (71% approved strongly or somewhat) and the Build Back Better “reconciliation” bill focused on social and climate spending (55% approved). Differences in approval levels were almost entirely a product of changes in Republican support: while 51% favored the bipartisan bill, only 21% approved the reconciliation bill. Democrats overwhelmingly supported both bills: 93 and 88%. 

A majority (59%) approved of measures to improve voting rights by Congress, again mostly based on the approval of Democrats (76%) rather than Republicans (41%). 

Asked about the Texas bill that virtually bans abortion after six weeks, 70% disapproved of it strongly (59%) or somewhat (11%). Only 8% of Democrats favored the abortion measure compared to 45% of Republicans. 

Foreign terrorists were deemed to be a very serious threat by 45%; the threat from “domestic terrorists” was perceived as more severe – 54% said very serious. The threat from climate change (49% very serious) was equal to that of the threat from China, although the partisan breakdown was reversed: While 75% of Democrats felt that the threat from climate was very serious, only 17% of Republicans agreed; while 65% of Republicans felt the threat from China was very serious, only 35% of Democrats agreed. 

Other benchmark questions included right vs. wrong direction for the county, state and country. Economic conditions ratings were included as well as questions about personal economic circumstances such as facing the possibility of unemployment, the cost of education and health care. The summary of main findings outlines the other survey-specific issues and results found in the full document below.

Main Findings 

Most Important Problem Facing County Residents: See pp. 6-9 of the full document below.

Right Direction/Wrong Direction: The percentage of those saying that the county was moving in the right direction was essentially unchanged – dropping one point from 42% last spring to 41% in fall. Regarding the state, there was a small increase from 45% to 50%. The percentage applicable to the country dropped considerably from 35 to only 22% in fall. (pp. 10-15). 

Rating Economic Conditions – County, State and Country: For the county, the percentage saying “excellent” or “good” stayed similar to what it has been for the last year – in the mid-50s – and rose a bit from 54 to 57% in fall. At the state level, there was rise from 50 to 57%. The federal level continued a downward swing, down from 44 in spring 2020 to 37% in fall 2020 and settling into a pattern in the low 20s starting last spring (23%) and continuing this fall (22%) (pp. 16-21). 

Expectations for the National Economy: The percentage of those saying that the economy will get better in the future decreased from 46% in fall 2020 to 40% last spring and was only 22% – equal to the “right direction” score for the federal government. Another 49% expected the economy to get worse (pp. 22) 

Economic Conditions Applying to Respondents: Concern about high taxes remained fairly stable at 54%; dropping a bit from 57% last spring. This was nearly equal to the percentage worried that “wages or salaries are not rising as fast as the cost of living – 55% up from 45% last spring. The percentage expressing a fear of unemployment was up a bit to 15% from 12%. An analysis shows the disproportionate impact of adverse economic situations upon lower income people (pp. 23-29). 

Coronavirus Section: There is a detailed review of many COVID-19 issues on pages 30-49. These include whether the situation is getting better, the pace of reopening, when it will be overcome, policies associated with county schools, the possibility of people coming down with the virus and a range of other experiences with the virus. There is a review of vaccinations – vaccination status, which vaccine was received, the severity of any side effects, openness to getting a booster. General views about requiring masks and proof of vaccinations, Biden’s policies and general views of government mandates are discussed. In continuity with prior surveys, respondents were asked to discuss whether certain circumstances have impacted them related to lifestyles, work practices, health and emotional consequences. Respondents indicated which individuals and sources they trusted about COVID-19. 

The reopening of schools is discussed by reviewing attitudes about in-person instruction as well as specific COVID protection policies implemented by the schools. (pp. 37-38). 4 

County’s Most Serious Issues: This was a listing of issues asking respondents to indicate how serious each issue was – for example, 49% said the “high cost of housing” was a “very serious” issue; 39% said the same about easy access to opioids (pp. 50-52). 

Familiarity and choices related to the County budget: 42% were very or somewhat familiar, 26% had researched the budget on the county’s website, and 26% felt that the budget was very important in guiding their overall approval of the county. The investment choices by the county of additional “Rainy Day” and retirement funding gained the support of 38%. Another 52% approved the establishment of a “climate resiliency authority.” Regarding improving the compensation of school bus drivers, 83% of the respondents agreed (pp. 52-55). 

Marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, tax increase for schools: 60% supported the legalization of recreational marijuana, but only 25% favored the decriminalization of other drugs like cocaine or heroin. The public was evenly divided on a tax increase for schools (pp. 55-56). 

National and International Issues and Policies: National issues were focused on current legislation in Congress (infrastructure, reconciliation, “Freedom to Vote” act) and the Texas abortion bill. International issues asked respondents to assess the seriousness of the threat posed by various items ranging from China and Russia to illegal immigration, Afghanistan and gaining asylum (pp. 56-59). 

“Stolen elections” “Inciting the mob on January 6”: There was a repetition of questions asked last spring about whether respondents felt the election had been “stolen” from Trump (23% agreed) or that Trump had incited the riot on January 6 – 62% agreed (pp. 60-61). 

Job Approval for the President, Governor and County Executive: The survey has asked about job approval for major executive positions for many years. As president, Joe Biden’s approval was mostly unchanged from last spring (54 vs. 52%) although there was some movement from “strongly” to “somewhat support.” For Governor Larry Hogan, his job approval improved from 70% last spring to 76% this fall. County Executive Steuart Pittman dropped a few points from 49 to 45% approval (pp. 62-67) 

Job Approval for County Council, Board of Education, Maryland General Assembly, Congress and the Supreme Court: The survey extended the job approval question to four legislative bodies: the Anne Arundel County Council (47% approve); the Maryland General Assembly (44% approve); the Board of Education (36% approve); and Congress which had a much lower score (22% approve – down six points since last spring). The Supreme Court was included for the first time – 42% approved. (p. 68-69). 

Trust in Political Parties: Democrats were basically unchanged (39% last spring, 38% in fall) while Republicans rose one point from 27 to 28%. The “neither” score dropped from 30 to 28% (pp. 69-70). 

Open-ended Comments and Questionnaire: Note that some questions had an opportunity for open-ended responses. Check the appendices at the end of the press release for verbatim citations (starts on page 89). The questionnaire with frequency distributions starts on page 80. 

Read the full results below or here (PDF 128 pages)

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