A year and a half later, despite the resurgence of the pandemic amid the delta variant, there is no such consensus. Republican governors who once signed off on mask mandates are making fighting against them a cause celebre. Mandates in general are the issue du jour, with some calling for extending them to vaccines, even as large swaths of the public (and especially Republicans) refuse to get vaccinated.
There are certainly valid debates about what the government should require, morally speaking. But on the political front, the Republican Party has rather clearly marched itself into a minority position.
Mask mandates have fallen in popularity in recent months, apparently thanks in large part to vaccinated people who support the concept but thought getting the shots would absolve them of that responsibility, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially advised.
But on the central battleground — masks in schools — 69 percent of Americans support the mandate, per a new Axios/Ipsos poll. And when it comes to both vaccine mandates and the methods to fight mask mandates that some Republicans are floating, the verdict is also pretty strongly against the GOP.
The Economist and YouGov released a new poll Wednesday asking Americans whether they would support vaccine mandates for a number of groups. And in every case the survey asked about, there was majority — and often 2-to-1 — support:
- Medical providers: 65-21 in favor
- Teachers: 61-24
- Police: 60-25
- Military: 59-24
- Federal employees: 56-26
- College students: 55-27
The survey even tested K-12 students who were eligible for the vaccines, and Americans said 51-30 that they supported a vaccine requirement.
The finding on medical providers is particularly timely, given that the Biden administration announced Wednesday that it will direct all nursing homes to require vaccination or lose their Medicare and Medicaid funds.
That move also comes after Republican governors have sought to use government funding in another way — to fend off mask mandates — with considerably less public support.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced Tuesday that schools that require masks won’t be eligible for a $163 million school grant program providing $1,800 per student. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week floated a similar idea — though his would have deprived school officials of their actual salaries — before backing off it.
Polls of such ideas suggest that however popular vaccine mandates might be — and however much people might have soured on mask mandates — the support simply isn’t there, or anywhere close to there. Opposition to withholding funds over mask mandates might actually be more unifying than any other proposal involving mandates. The Axios-Ipsos poll this week showed that fully 77 percent of Americans opposed withholding funding from school districts or local governments that require masks, as DeSantis proposed and Ducey is now pursuing.
The other state in which a governor’s decisions on mandates are playing out in real time is California. There, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is facing a recall election, and he has been among the most forceful governors in the country on vaccine mandates, requiring either them or weekly tests for teachers.
It’s too simple to say that whether he’s recalled next month is a referendum on this policy — given the dynamics of a highly unusual recall election — but his push for vaccine mandates while his political future is in the balance suggests he believes this is a popular idea. He comes from a state in which at least 54 percent of people are fully vaccinated, according to Washington Post tracking, while would-be Republican successors are promising to repeal vaccine and mask mandates.
Trump’s M.O. throughout basically the entirety of his presidency was to focus on his base, even if the things he was pursuing were broadly unpopular. This has created an emboldened and passionate GOP base, but it’s also created a situation in which Republicans — whether ambitious ones like DeSantis or simply those trying to respond to their supporters — feel pressure to play to that base. To have a seat at the table in the national GOP right now is to oppose vaccine mandates — which appear pretty strongly popular, and not just in the YouGov poll — and not just fight mask mandates — which many Americans oppose — but to push the envelope in the fight against them.
The problem is that there is little evidence that the broader American public is clamoring for that envelope to be pushed, nor does it oppose targeted vaccine mandates.
None of that means Americans will necessarily write off GOP politicians who support these policies. But it does reinforce the gamble at play: the brief base high followed by the unknown reaction from the broader public, which seems to be on quite a different page.
In other words: the Trump playbook that didn’t seem to work terribly well.
This post has been updated.