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Guest Column
For most Floridians, vaccine requirements are a private matter | Column
A USF survey reminds us just how politically contentious and complicated the COVID-19 pandemic has been.
A guest stops to take a selfie at Magic Kingdom Park on July 11, 2020, at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista.
A guest stops to take a selfie at Magic Kingdom Park on July 11, 2020, at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista. [ OLGA THOMPSON/DISNEY | HANDOUT ]
Published Jun. 16

In early May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 2006 into law. Among other provisions, the bill prohibited businesses and schools in Florida from requiring proof of vaccination for COVID-19. However, results from a recent survey conducted at the University of South Florida suggest that a majority of Floridians may disagree with the move. While voters remain largely divided on the issue of “vaccine passports,” most agree that vaccine requirements are best left in the hands of private businesses.

USF professor Stephen Neely
USF professor Stephen Neely [ File photo ]

The survey — which was conducted between June 3 and June 14 — asked a representative sample of 600 Floridians their thoughts on a variety of vaccine related questions. Among the survey respondents, a two-thirds majority (66.7%) agreed that Florida’s businesses should be allowed to require their employees to be vaccinated “if they choose to do so.”

When asked specifically about Florida’s theme parks, respondents were somewhat more divided. Just under a third (30.5%) said that Florida’s theme parks should not be allowed to require proof of vaccination from guests, while a nearly identical number (30.0%) felt that proof of vaccination should be required for park entry. A plurality of respondents (39.5%) said that the decision to require vaccinations should be left to individual parks.

Respondents were slightly more supportive of mandatory vaccines for cruise line passengers entering the state. In that case, 43.0% said that proof of vaccination should be mandatory on all cruises porting in Florida, while another 33.2% felt that the decision should be left to individual cruise lines.

Unsurprisingly, the survey responses revealed significant partisan differences, with Democrats more likely to support mandatory vaccination in each instance. However, while a plurality of Republicans supported a ban on vaccine passports for the state’s theme parks (45.7%), a slight majority of respondents from the governor’s own party felt differently, with 21.3% of Republicans favoring mandatory vaccinations and 32.9% saying that the decision should be left up to individual theme parks.

A similar pattern was seen among Republicans in the case of cruise lines, where just under a third of respondents (29.9%) favored mandatory vaccines, while another third (32.9%) felt that the decision should be left to individual cruise lines.

The results highlight the unique ideological challenges that mandatory vaccination poses for the GOP, where the free-choice prerogatives of individual citizens may at times be incompatible with those of privately owned businesses. The data also suggest that the state’s Independent voters may be inclined to favor the latter. In each instance, a plurality of self-identified Independents said that vaccine requirements should be left to the discretion of the private sector.

While the question of mandatory vaccines for tourists left Floridians divided, there was slightly more agreement when it came to vaccinations for the state’s PK-12 and college students. A two-thirds majority of respondents favored mandatory vaccines as a condition of on-campus attendance for Florida’s college students (68.8%). A slightly smaller number (61.5%) favored the same for PK-12 students, though it’s important to note that no COVID-19 vaccine is currently approved for children under 12 years of age.

USF survey
USF survey [ Provided ]

Collectively, the survey responses provide little by way of a mandate for public policy makers. While a plurality of Floridians feel that vaccine requirements should be left in the hands of private organizations, absent a stronger majority, it’s unlikely that SB 2006 will be challenged soon.

Instead, the responses remind us just how politically contentious and complicated the COVID-19 pandemic has been, as well as how many facets of our lives are influenced by public health policy. And as tourism picks back up in the Sunshine State — with vaccination levels lagging slightly behind targets for herd immunity — it’s likely that vaccine requirements will remain a contentious issue for many Floridians.

Stephen Neely (srneely@usf.edu) is an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida. The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 600 Floridians was fielded to be representative of the state’s demographic composition based on region, age, gender, race, and ethnicity. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error +/- 4.