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Poll: W.Va. voters back Gov. Justice on COVID response

CHARLESTON — A new poll shows that even with the increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, voters still support Gov. Jim Justice’s pandemic response.

It also found a majority of voters support vaccine choice versus mandates.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce commissioned a poll through Virginia-based North Star Opinion Research. The poll surveyed 600 registered voters between Sept. 7-9 via live phone calls. Quotas were set by age, gender and county according to the number of voters in each county. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percent.

According to the poll, 64% of respondents approve of Justice’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to 31 percent who disapprove. A majority of respondents across three categories of voters approved of Justice’s pandemic response — 67% of Republicans, 66% of independents and 57% of Democrats.

Justice’s overall approval numbers remain high, with 59% of respondents approving and 31% disapproving. Republicans approved of Justice 69% to 23%, with independents approving 57% to 31% and Democrats approving 47% to 44%.

When asked if they agree that the COVID-19 pandemic and the delta variant are a serious problem in their communities, 80% of respondents said it was a very or somewhat serious problem while 18% said it was not a serious problem.

Women were more likely to say it was a problem than men, with 90% of women saying it was a serious problem compared to 70% of men.

Based on political affiliation, 76% of Republicans, 77% of independents, and 94% of Democrats said it was a serious problem.

A majority of West Virginia voters expressed pessimism about the future of the pandemic, with 57% of respondents saying the worst is yet to come and 33% saying the worst is behind the state. Women were more pessimistic, with 67% saying the worst is yet to come, while 49% of men said the worst is yet to come. Democrats were the most pessimistic at 77%, with independents at 54% and Republicans at 47%.

When asked about hospitalizations in their area, 51% said hospitals are reaching full capacity and 28% said there are still plenty of hospital beds. In a memo to the Chamber of Commerce, pollsters Whit Ayres and Jon McHenry said the numbers remained constant when broken down by communities.

“Surprisingly little regional variation exists on this question, with 50% of voters in urban areas, 51% in suburban communities, 49% in small towns, and 54% in rural areas saying hospitals are reaching full capacity,” the pollsters wrote.

When asked about vaccination status, 69% of respondents said they have received one of the three available COVID-19 vaccines. According to the most recent vaccine numbers from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, nearly 60% of eligible West Virginians were fully vaccinated. Broken down by political affiliation, 63% of Republicans said they were vaccinated, 66% of independents, and 90% of Democrats.

“That is higher than the general population because … voters skew older than the entire population,” Ayres and McHenry wrote. “The primary driver of vaccination status is the perceived seriousness of the pandemic: 87% of voters who think COVID-19 and the delta variant are a serious problem in their community are vaccinated, compared to 56% who think the pandemic is somewhat serious, and only 36% who say it is not too serious.”

When unvaccinated poll respondents were offered eight possible reasons for why they had not yet been vaccinated, 26% said development of the vaccines were too rushed, with 22% worried about long-term effects of the vaccine.

When it comes to specific mandates and requirements, 69% of respondents said decisions about keeping children safe in schools should be made by elected county school boards instead of at the state level. A majority of political affiliations agreed, with 73% of Republicans, 71% of independents, and 55% of Democrats. As of Thursday, 53 out of 55 county school systems have mask mandates in place for students and staff.

In the wake of President Joe Biden requiring companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations, 67% of poll respondents said employers should make decisions about vaccines instead of the government, with 18% disagreeing.

“Unlike many of these pandemic debates, there is no significant difference by party,” Ayres and McHenry wrote. “Sixty-eight percent of Republican voters want employers to make those decisions, as do 71% of independents and 61% of Democrats.”

While respondents were split about what kinds of businesses should require vaccinations for their employees, there was clear agreement on hospital and nursing home employees. Of those polled, 63% of respondents said hospitals and 62% of nursing homes should be allowed to mandate vaccines for their employees.

This is the second poll showing support for Justice’s handling of the pandemic. West Virginia MetroNews’ statewide poll by Research America found that a combined 71% of respondents were somewhat satisfied and very satisfied with Justice’s pandemic handling, compared to a combined 21% who were somewhat dissatisfied and very dissatisfied. That poll took place Aug. 20-25 with 400 respondents.

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