Of course, 6 in 10 approving means that 4 in 10 don’t or have no opinion. In this case, most of that group falls into the “don’t approve” category — thanks to robust opposition from Republicans. Two-thirds of Republicans indicate opposition to the policy. But again, if you’re Joe Biden, you’re looking at that 30 percent GOP support and figuring you’re not going to fare much better.
What’s critically important to remember in the moment, though, is that Republican legislators are not considering that 30 percent good enough. They’re looking at that 69 percent that opposes such a policy and seeing in it an opportunity for intertwining themselves deeper with a vocal, boisterous base. Candidates for office and right-wing media personalities are battling one another in a no-holds-barred marketplace for attention often centered on the popularity of Fox News, and that means the 69 percent opposition from Republicans is often much more important than the 60 percent approval from Americans overall.
There was a great quote from an AFL-CIO official, Michael Podhorzer, that appeared in a New Yorker overview of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Podhorzer pointed out that Trump actually had something of a point.
“Trump won White America by eight points. He won nonurban areas by over 20 points,” Podhorzer said. “He is the democratically elected president of White America. It’s almost like he represents a nation within a nation.”
And in that nation, a majority of people oppose the new vaccination rules. So the measure becomes anathema to those jockeying for leadership positions within it.
Another new poll, conducted by CNN with its polling partner SSRS, explored the priorities of that nation. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were asked how important certain traits were in defining what it meant to be a Republican. Most, for example, felt that a central issue was believing that the federal government should be smaller.
Where things began to diverge, though, was on Trump. Two-thirds of those who identified as conservative Republicans said that supporting Trump was important to being a Republican, compared with less than half of moderate Republicans. Two-thirds of conservatives also said that believing the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election was important to being a Republican — meaning that, to this group, accepting that false claim is integral to the party itself. Among moderates, again, only a minority held that view.
This is important because those conservatives are more likely to be engaged in that marketplace of attention. Conservative Republicans are more likely than moderates to say that they watch Fox News (by a 22-point margin, according to the Pew Research Center) or to read far-right news sites such as Breitbart (by eight points) or listen to right-wing radio programs such as the one that was hosted by Rush Limbaugh (by 17 points).
More importantly to elected leaders, they also make up a larger percentage of the pool of primary voters. In 2016, the American National Election Studies survey found that more than half of those who voted in the primary identified as conservative or extremely conservative.
About two-thirds of those who used those terms to identify themselves reported voting that year. Only about half of those who said they were slightly conservative or moderate did. To extend Podhorzer’s analogy, then, not only is there a separate insular nation that elected Trump, but there are, within that nation, probably voters who skew more conservative.
If you’re one of the Republicans elected to the House in 2020, representing a district that preferred Trump by a 22-point margin on average (since three-quarters of Republican districts preferred Trump by at least 10 points), what position are you going to take with primaries looming next year? Are you going to stand with a president who has single-digit approval among Republicans in advocating for a policy aimed at increasing vaccinations? Or are you going to play to the 7 in 10 Republicans who dislike that policy and see whether you can get a spot on Fox to complain about it?
Sure, most Americans agree with Biden’s position. But that’s in Actual America, not the America where much of the right-wing political discussion takes place.