New Iowa Poll finds majority approve of Gov. Reynolds’ overall handling of pandemic, but disapprove of her mask and vaccine policies

Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses COVID-19 during a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. — video still

A majority of Iowans approve of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ overall handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also disapprove of the governor’s actions on face masks and vaccines. Those seemingly contradictory results are included in the latest Iowa Poll published by the Des Moines Register.

According to the survey of 805 Iowans, all 18 and older, by Selzer & Co. on behalf of the Register and Mediacom, 51 percent of respondents approve of Reynolds’ handling of the state’s response to COVID-19, while 45 percent disapprove and 4 percent are unsure. That’s a decline from June, when the poll found 54 percent approved of how Reynolds was handling the pandemic, 43 percent disapproved and 3 percent were unsure.

But asked if they supported the new law banning cities, counties and schools from creating mask mandates, only 47 percent said they did, a decline of two percentage points since June. Opposition to the mask mandate ban has increased four percentage points since June, going from 46 to 50 percent.

The poll was conducted via phone from Sept. 12 to 15, and the ban on mask mandate was in full effect when pollsters first started contacting people. Federal Judge Robert Pratt issued a temporary restraining order on Sept. 13, prohibiting the state from enforcing the mask mandate ban in schools. The Register did not indicate how this may have affected the poll results.

But the change in attitude towards the mask mandate ban matched the change in attitudes on the ban on local governments and schools asking about a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status. (Both governments and schools are still free to require proof of other vaccinations.)

That ban, which also contains penalties for businesses that require people entering their premises to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, was included in a bill introduced last in this year’s legislative session at Reynolds’ request.

Like disapproval of the mask mandate ban, disapproval of the ban on being able to require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination grew by four percentage points between June and September in the Iowa Poll, going from 46 to 50 percent. Approval dropped by one percentage point to 46 percent.

The September poll also included a new question, asking if Iowa schools should be allowed to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students, once the vaccines have full FDA approval, along with all the other vaccinations currently required. Fifty-five percent of respondents supported adding COVID-19 to the required vaccination list, and only 41 percent opposed it. Four percent said they were unsure.

Unsurprisingly, the poll results broke down along party lines in assessments of Reynolds and the state’s response to COVID-19, as did personal responses. Respondents who identified themselves as Republicans were overwhelmingly supportive of Reynolds’ pandemic performance and less likely to be vaccinated than those who described themselves as Democrats, who resoundingly disapproved of Reynolds and her actions. Self-described independents fell between the two.

Almost all the Democratic respondents — 99 percent — told the pollsters they’d either had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (95 percent) or plan to be vaccinated (4 percent). Among independents, 68 percent said they either had at least one dose or planned to be vaccinated. But only 58 percent of Republicans said they had received the vaccine, one dose or two, or had plans to do so.

The poll also found that Iowans who live in rural areas were less likely to be vaccinated, with 51 percent reporting at least one dose of vaccine, as opposed to 70 percent of respondents in urban areas and 75 percent in the suburbs.

The group least likely to have had at least one dose of vaccine was Trump voters, according to the poll. Among people who said they voted for Donald Trump in 2020, only 48 percent said they had received at least one dose of vaccine.

Those patterns have been consistent since vaccines first became widely accessible in Iowa in April, but Reynolds has steadfastly refused to address the fact that vaccine hesitancy and resistance in the state is concentrated among her political base: Republicans who favored Trump and rural residents.

In its most recent weekly update, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 12,163 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, a 71 percent increase from the new case total it reported four weeks earlier, and the highest rate of new cases for a seven-day period since early January. IDPH also reported the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had reached a new high for the year, and another 82 deaths from the virus.

According to IDPH, 78 percent of the 638 hospitalized COVID-19 patients were not fully vaccinated.

In the department’s latest update, 59.7 percent of Iowans 12 and older were fully vaccinated. When those under 12, who do not currently qualify for vaccinations, are included, the percentage of fully vaccinated Iowans is 50.7 percent.

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