More than two years since the pandemic hit Florida, what is the mood? In a recent survey, we asked Floridians how they felt about the Sunshine State’s pandemic response and the ongoing public health crisis.
Their responses suggest that a majority of Floridians are satisfied with the state’s handling of COVID-19, and most no longer view the pandemic as the most important issue facing the state. Still, we continued to observe stark partisan differences when it came to the state’s handling of the crisis and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
The survey — conducted between March 31 and April 12 at the University of South Florida — asked a representative sample of 600 Floridians how satisfied they are with the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority (60 percent) said that they were either “very” or “somewhat” satisfied, and more than two thirds say that Florida has done either as well (32 percent) or better (36 percent) than other states when it comes to pandemic response.
Facing record inflation and a potential recession, many Floridians appear ready to put the pandemic behind them. Economic concerns have now surpassed COVID-19 as the most important issue for a plurality of the state’s residents. When respondents were asked to name the most important issue facing the state today, over a third (34 percent) identified jobs and the economy, with COVID-19 only being the most important issue to 9 percent of Floridians. In fact, a large majority of Floridians now agree that “the worst is behind us” (71 percent) when it comes to COVID-19.
Still, a majority of respondents (59 percent) remain concerned about the possibility of a potential surge in the spring or summer. Although the survey responses suggest that many Floridians are ready to move on from the pandemic, COVID-19 cases are up 24 percent nationwide in the past two weeks, with an average of 38,000 cases per day in the United States. The new subvariant of Omicron, BA.2 (known as “stealth omicron”) is now the dominant variant in the country accounting for 86 percent of cases since the beginning of April. In Florida, measured COVID cases were recently on the rise in Palm Beach County for the first time since January.
As has been the case since the outset of the pandemic, we found sharp partisan differences when it came to pandemic beliefs, with 75 percent of Democrats expressing concern over a spring or summer surge, compared to only 42 percent of Republicans. In addition, we found that 87 percent of Democrats were confident in COVID-19 public health guidance, compared to only 44 percent of Republicans.
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We also found differing opinions across party lines regarding vaccine safety and efficacy. Only 62 percent of Republicans were confident that COVID-19 vaccines are safe compared to 86 percent of Democrats. When it comes to vaccine effectiveness, 91 percent of Democrats were confident that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of death compared to only 66 percent of Republicans. And 88 percent of Democrats believe that vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization, compared to 69 percent of Republicans.
Health officials remain optimistic in the fight against stealth omicron, but note that the choices Americans make regarding vaccinations will have a direct correlation to beating the BA.2 variant. In Florida, more than three-quarters (79 percent) of Floridians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and about two-thirds (67 percent) are considered fully vaccinated.
Overall, it appears that Floridians are generally pleased with the state’s pandemic response. Two years since the beginning of the pandemic, studies are suggesting that Florida’s handling of COVID-19 has put the Sunshine State in a more favorable economic position compared to other states that took a more aggressive mitigation approaches, such as California.
Although many Floridians support how the state handled the pandemic, the survey further underscored how polarizing and political it has been from the start. Differing views across party lines around vaccine efficacy and pandemic mitigation efforts continue to turn what should be a public health issue into a political one.
Christina Stevens is associate director of development for the University of South Florida Libraries, and a USF MPA candidate. Stephen Neely is an associate professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Public Affairs.
The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The survey referenced in this article was conducted between March 31 and April 12. A representative sample of 600 adult Floridians was collected via a stratified, quota sampling method, with balanced quotas (by region of the state) for age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, and political affiliation. The results are reported with a 95 percent confidence level and a margin of error +/- 4.