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Regardless of party affiliation, Montanans increasingly report uncertainty that they will take a potential COVID-19 vaccine, according to responses to a recent Montana State University pre-election poll.

MSU political scientists collected the responses from 1,787 Montanans as part of the Treasure State 2020 Pre-election Poll. In addition to surveying political preferences for the upcoming general election, the poll’s developers asked a variety of questions about views, behaviors and experiences related to the pandemic. The responses were collected from Sept.14 and Oct. 2, prior to the recent surge of positive coronavirus cases throughout Montana.

MSU political scientist Eric Raile, one of the architects of the survey, said the poll indicated uncertainty exists in all populations about a potential COVID-19 vaccine - with Democrats much more likely now to say they don’t know if they will get vaccinated, while Republicans are much more likely now to say they’ll not get vaccinated.

“A great deal of uncertainty exists overall about potential vaccination, often due to concerns over unproven safety of a vaccine,” said Raile, an associate professor in the MSU Department of Political Science.

“A majority of respondents overall (59%) either will not (28%) or do not know whether they will (31%) get vaccinated. Women are more likely to say they will not get vaccinated (34% to 24%). Further, older age groups are more likely to say they will get vaccinated.”

Raile and MSU political science colleagues David C.W. Parker and Elizabeth Shanahan included a set of more than a dozen COVID-19 questions in the pre-election political poll, in part to compare with responses gathered last April in a similar poll they administered to Montana residents about the impact of the virus. Data services for both polls were provided by the MSU HELPS Lab, which Raile directs.

“Overall, a much smaller percentage of people now say they will definitely get the vaccination,” Raile said. “Nationally, Democratic politicians have been emphasizing concerns about vaccine safety, and those views are likely being reflected among Democrats in Montana.”

Raile said he was surprised to see greater opposition to a vaccine among female respondents than male respondents. He said this may be a result of information consumption patterns, particularly with regard to viewing anti-vaccination content on social media.

Generally, the poll revealed that the respondents reported low to moderate levels of worry about the impact of the pandemic on their health, though worry does increase with age

“The vast majority of respondents (78%) see themselves as being at low or moderate risk of catching the coronavirus,” Raile said.

Raile said that as with the spring survey, party affiliation was a key factor in several responses, with Republicans who responded to the poll typically holding different views than Democrats, independents and those with other partisan affiliations. While those partisan divisions were apparent in April during the early days of the pandemic, they are more strongly held in some ways after six months.

Raile said that in answers to several of the questions, independent voters take stances closer to Democratic voters than Republican voters. “The pandemic seems to be an issue that is compelling independents toward Democratic views.”

For example, Raile said one highly partisan issue is statewide orders for wearing of face coverings, which is supported by 95% of Democrats compared to 30% of Republicans. Sixty-four percent of independents said they support orders for face coverings.

There was also a division related to how frequently the respondents said they wore a face covering indoors where people from outside their household were interacting.

“Republicans again stand apart, with a majority (55%) saying they only sometimes (36%) or never (19%) wear face coverings,” Raile said. “By contrast, nearly all Democrats (88%) say they wear face coverings always or most of the time, with corresponding majorities for independents (75%) and those with other partisan identities (77%).”

Among respondents who did not always wear face coverings, the most frequent reason given was that the risk of infection was low (32%). Personal freedom was another popular answer overall (18%), a result driven primarily by Republicans, he said.

Overall, worry about an economic depression being set off by the pandemic is a little lower now than it was in April, Raile said, even though 30% of all respondents reported lost income or wages and 16% of the respondents reported being laid off or furloughed.

“However, those are pretty big numbers in historical context,” Raile said. “This event has had large consequences for the workforce in Montana.”

Raile said the analysis saw similar responses in terms of stress, worry and disruption due to the coronavirus when comparing the April and September surveys.

“Overall, a majority of respondents (66%) say their lives have been disrupted just a little (27%) or some (39%) by the coronavirus pandemic. Younger respondents are more likely to report a high level of disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps due to children and work concerns. The partisan divide is smaller here, and gender and education level do not produce consistently different responses.”

The political scientists said they will distribute a post-election poll after the Nov. 3 general election, with results expected by the beginning of 2021. The post-election poll will investigate vote choices and related views about policies and political events.

For a full analysis of the data presented in the Treasure State Poll, go to http://helpslab.montana.edu/.

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