Do Floridians want social distancing fines? Will they take a vaccine? | Column
Here is what Floridians are saying in a poll conducted by University of Miami researchers.
A consumer wears a mask and uses hand sanitizer for protection against COVID-19 at a Chevron gas station in West Miami.
A consumer wears a mask and uses hand sanitizer for protection against COVID-19 at a Chevron gas station in West Miami. [ PEDRO PORTAL | Miami Herald ]
Published July 9, 2020|Updated July 9, 2020

Much of Florida is now curtailing the planned economic reopening after a sudden surge of new coronavirus cases. The pandemic and lockdown are certainly not over yet, as we are seeing with the recent spike in cases. City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez recently delayed further reopening plans due to concerns about the virus’s continued spread. It is therefore imperative that Floridians continue to observe best practices even as our state slowly gets back to business.

Casey Klofstad
Casey Klofstad [ Provided ]

As we all have learned during this pandemic, some people observe the best practices of physical distancing, mask-wearing, and handwashing to slow the spread of the virus, and others do not. Given the variability in how our fellow neighbors observe these safety guidelines, our state and local governments will have to consider policies aimed at addressing Floridians’ behaviors over the next few months.

Joseph E. Uscinski
Joseph E. Uscinski [ Provided ]

With this in mind, we ran a public opinion poll in Florida to see what people in our state believe about policies that could be proposed to address COVID-19 during the state’s early reopening phases. We provided an online survey to a representative sample of 1,039 Floridians from June 4 to June 22. Our respondents were asked to agree or disagree with a series of policy proposals that have been discussed at various times throughout the nation during the pandemic.

Justin Stoler
Justin Stoler [ Provided ]

As it turns out, physical distancing is one of the best ways to stop the virus from spreading. Therefore, we asked Floridians if “people who violate social distancing rules should be fined.” In total, 43 percent of Floridians agreed, and 25 percent were unsure.

When asked if “government officials should monitor public spaces to enforce social distancing guidelines,” 52 percent agreed, and 22 were unsure.

We also asked about policies addressing the use of face masks. In total, 73 percent of Floridians agreed that “face masks should be mandatory at most places of employment, schooling, and on mass transportation,” and only 13 percent were unsure. In short, majorities support the mandating of face masks and the monitoring of public spaces, but only minorities of Floridians support fines.

We then asked if respondents if they agreed that if as COVID-19 vaccine were to become available, should it be made mandatory. In total, 43 percent agreed and 33 disagreed. Some of this resistance to mandated vaccine policy likely stems from concerns about vaccines more generally.

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In total, 20 percent of Floridians in our survey claim that they are unwilling to take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were to become available and 20 percent claim to believe that “the coronavirus is being used to force a dangerous and unnecessary vaccine on Americans.” There has been growing vaccine hesitancy over the last twenty years, this hesitancy appears much more acute with the as-to-be developed COVID-19 vaccine.

Finally, we asked our survey respondents if drones should be used to monitor people’s movements and vital signs. This policy was actually initiated in Westport, Conn., where town officials hoped to use flying unmanned drones to track residents’ body temperatures, coughing, and physical distancing practices and then report that data to the town police. Citizens in Westport, upon hearing of the policy, immediately protested and the policy was scrapped. Floridians shared a similar view: only 20 percent of our survey respondents were in favor of such a policy.

The ongoing pandemic presents Floridians with new challenges and new expectations for behavior. The virus also demands response from our state and local governments. Many COVID-19 control measures are perceived as controversial, but we must remember that past successful public health initiatives that curbed significant health risks, such as seatbelt wearing and banning smoking in public places, originally received similar resistance.

Given that the pandemic shows little sign of abating soon, further restrictive policies may be necessary. The findings from our survey gives us a glimpse of how Floridians will react.

Casey Klofstad is professor of political science at the University of Miami, College of Arts & Sciences. Joseph E. Uscinski is associate professor of political science at University of Miami, College of Arts & Sciences. Justin Stoler is associate professor of geography at University of Miami, College of Arts & Sciences.