Poll: Most in NJ Support Easing COVID-19 Restrictions

Vaccine comfort levels impacted slightly by J&J pause

Most New Jerseyans say the state’s COVID-19 social distancing measures imposed to date have been appropriate, but they also endorse Gov. Phil Murphy’s move to ease those restrictions this week. The Monmouth University Poll also finds that vaccine opposition is lower in the Garden State than it is nationally, but there is still a small but significant number of residents who are vaccine-hesitant and feel less comfortable about getting the vaccine because of the recent pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson shot. The poll also finds a majority of the public wants to see schools fully open for in-person instruction in the fall, although parents are opposed to requiring the vaccine for school attendance if one is approved for children.

A majority (58%) of New Jerseyans say the measures taken by state government to slow the spread of the virus have been appropriate. Another 27% say they have gone too far and 14% say they have not gone far enough. At the start of the pandemic 64% said the measures taken by the state government were appropriate, 11 % said they went too far and 23% not far enough (April 2020).

While state residents tend to back the Murphy administration’s social distancing measures to date, they also support the recent announcement easing those limits on Friday. Specifically, 73% say raising the capacity limits on outdoor gatherings and arenas is a good idea. Just 24% say this is a bad idea. A slightly smaller majority (60%) give the thumbs-up to easing restrictions on indoor gatherings, while 37% say it is a bad idea. At least 3 in 4 Republicans and 2 in 3 independents support these new policies. While most Democrats say the relaxed restrictions on outdoor gatherings is a good idea (60%), less than half feel the same about the larger indoor capacity limits (44%).

The announcement that restaurants will be able to open at capacity as long as they maintain six feet of distance between tables was made after most of the interviews for this poll were conducted. However, reaction to this new policy from respondents who were interviewed on Monday and Tuesday suggests that public support for this idea may be even higher than it is for the general loosening of indoor event limits announced last week. [Note: due to demographic differences in the sample interviewed before and after this announcement, we cannot release an exact percentage.]

“Most New Jerseyans are ready to see the state reopen. The problem is, we still have a number of residents who are hesitant or downright opposed to getting the vaccine,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Currently, 63% of New Jersey adults report receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and another 7% say they plan to get it as soon as possible. That leaves 14% who say they will continue to let other people get the vaccine and see how it goes before getting it themselves and another 14% who say it is likely they will never get the vaccine if they can avoid it.

Outright vaccine opposition is lower in New Jersey (14%) than nationally (21% in a Monmouth University Poll taken last month). Republicans (22%) and independents (17%) are more likely than Democrats (7%) to fall into this anti-vax group. Middle-aged New Jerseyans between 35 and 54 years old (23%) are also more likely to be opposed to vaccination than are those aged 18 to 34 (13%) or aged 55 and older (7%). White residents and people of color express similar levels of both hesitance and outright opposition to getting the vaccine, but people of color (58%) are somewhat less likely than whites (66%) to report having already gotten the vaccine.

“Looking at the differences in attitudes among New Jersey’s diverse communities, we may need to focus more on access than opposition to explain the varying vaccination rates,” said Murray.

While only 7% of vaccinated New Jerseyans say they received the Johnson & Johnson shot, the recent pause in using that vaccine may have slightly heightened concern among those who are hesitant about getting a shot. Overall, 32% of all New Jerseyans say the pause made them less comfortable about the J&J vaccine and 14% said it made them less comfortable about all Covid vaccines, while 52% say the pause had no impact on their vaccine comfort level. About 8 in 10 residents feel the Covid vaccines from Moderna (80%) and Pfizer (79%) are safe, but a smaller majority (55%) say the same about the J&J shot.

Among unvaccinated residents who are ready to get the vaccine as soon as possible, 56% say the recent pause may have made them think twice about the J&J vaccine, but few (9%) feel less comfortable about all Covid vaccines. Among those who are waiting to see how other people react, 19% say they are less comfortable with the J&J vaccine but even more (38%) now feel less comfortable about all vaccines. Among those who are opposed to getting a vaccine at all, most (54%) say the J&J pause has not affected their comfort level with any of the vaccines.

“Safety and efficacy concerns are really not motivating factors for staunch anti-vaxxers. The J&J pause had little impact on them, but it may have spooked people we characterize as vaccine-hesitant. While the overall population share represented by this group may be small, it matters when that percentage could be the difference between herd immunity and a continuing pandemic,” said Murray.

Looking ahead to the new school year, a majority (54%) of Garden State residents say the state’s schools should plan to be fully open for in-person instruction in the fall. Another 37% say they should plan for a mix of in-person and remote instruction while just 7% say they should plan to be fully remote. Among parents of children under 18 years old, 57% say schools should be fully in-person in the fall, while 33% prefer a hybrid model and 9% want a fully remote situation.

The public is divided over whether children should be required to get a Covid vaccine for school attendance if one is made available for them – 50% would approve of this requirement and 46% disapprove. Among parents, though, fully 65% oppose requiring a Covid vaccine for school attendance if it is available for children. Just 34% of parents would support this requirement.

In other poll findings, most New Jerseyans (61%) say the coronavirus outbreak has had a major impact on their daily life, down slightly from 71% who said the same at the start of the pandemic. Concern about a family member becoming seriously ill from the virus has declined to a greater degree. Currently, 38% are very concerned about this happening, compared with 60% who felt this way last April. However, this level of concern has dropped much more among white residents (from 57% last year to 29% now) than it has among people of color (from 67% to 50%).

Most state residents (53%) feel that New Jersey is handling the pandemic better than other states, while 23% say it is doing worse and another 23% say it is doing about the same as other states. About two-thirds (66%) say Gov. Murphy is doing a good job dealing with the outbreak, which is down from 79% who said the same just over a year ago. President Joe Biden gets a similarly high rating on handling the pandemic (65% good job), which is much better than his predecessor received last year (41% said Donald Trump was doing a good job in April 2020). About 8 in 10 New Jerseyans are either very satisfied (33%) or somewhat satisfied (46%) with the how the Covid vaccine has been rolled out.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from April 29 to May 4, 2021 with 706 New Jersey adults. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch.

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