A survey from early October of 489 Anne Arundel County residents released Wednesday found 27% of Republicans don’t think the coronavirus is much of a problem anymore. Meanwhile, nearly half of Democrats think it will take another year or two to overcome the pandemic in Maryland.
“It’s like living in parallel universes,” said Dan Nataf, a professor at Anne Arundel Community College who has run the survey since 1995. “If you don’t think COVID is a problem, you’re totally back to normal. You’re not wearing masks. You’re not social distancing. This divide permeates society.”
However, overall concern over the pandemic has decreased significantly from last spring. Only 35% polled this month said COVID-19 is the most important issue facing county residents as opposed to 53% in spring 2021. A finding Nataf said surprised him.
He expected more concern over the virus after the Delta variant hit the area this past summer.
“There’s a lot of polling on COVID because COVID is still an issue,” he said. “When Delta hit, it spoiled everything. It really looked like it was on its way out and then it reversed course. I was planning on doing other questions like climate change and then oops... we reversed course.”
The partisan divide was also apparent in the way respondents polled over recent federal measures enacted by President Joe Biden to prevent the spread of disease.
Eighty-nine percent of Democrats agreed with “requiring most health care workers to get vaccinated,” while half of Republicans opposed it. Similarly, 84% of Democrats supported “requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing.” Fifty-four percent of Republicans were completely opposed.
The divide was similar when it came to the way Anne Arundel County Public Schools was handling the pandemic. The vast majority of Democrats (86%) said mandating face masks in the classroom was necessary while nearly half of Republicans said that measure was “doing too much.”
“Underlying all of this is a partisan divide on the seriousness of COVID,” said Nataf. “That’s a theme. A lot of liberal people, their instincts are ‘don’t go too fast’ and conservatives think: ‘COVID? What COVID?’”
Another issue that arose in the survey was education. Twenty-four percent of respondents said education was the “most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County.” The only issue of more concern to respondents was COVID.
And when asked about the seriousness of certain issues in the county, 54% said quality of education was “very serious.” This was something both parties agreed upon, with 51% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans labeling the issue “very serious.”
Nataf said he was interested to see how residents felt about the change in education policies related to COVID after AACPS classes transitioned from online to in-person with an online option for only those with physical or emotional difficulties. Forty-three percent of respondents said they weren’t fully satisfied and wished there was an online option for all students. Forty-two percent agreed fully with the change in policy.
“I was surprised by how many people wanted more choices,” said Nataf.
As far as local political issues go, he said he is saving his more detailed questions about approval/disapproval of the county executive for the spring as the primary election will be in June of 2022.
But, County Executive Steuart Pittman did see a slight dip in approval from last spring to this fall. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they approved of Pittman’s performance in the position last spring as opposed to 45% this fall.
The overall sentiment about Pittman is complicated by the fact that an increasing number of residents are unsure how they feel about his leadership. In spring of 2021, 10% of respondents opted out of voicing their opinion on Pittman in the survey, that number more than doubled at 21% this fall.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Gov. Larry Hogan’s approval rating improved from 70% last spring to 76% this fall.
Nataf said seeing this increase in approval for Hogan confirmed for him that the governor has been able to successfully tow the line between meeting the needs of Democrats and Republicans while trying to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus.
“I think it’s very hard to govern under these conditions,” said Nataf. “You’re walking such a fine line between doing too much and too little. The other side is Larry Hogan walks on water. He has great job approval. They like his demeanor and his independence. There’s a case study there in crisis management.”
In terms of continuing to combat the virus, 14% of respondents said they already got their booster shots, while 56% plan to get them eventually. Thirty percent said they don’t intend to get a booster.
This differs significantly from those who say they got the original vaccine series. Eighty-nine percent of residents polled said they got fully vaccinated while 9% said they didn’t get vaccinated at all.
Nataf included a question on the survey asking how people have been coping with the pandemic since this past spring. Many residents commented they’ve been happier, more active, more social and less anxious. Others say they’re still concerned about the pandemic, but feel less fearful about catching the virus on a daily basis.
“I’m careful, but not obsessed,” said one respondent.
This article has been updated to accurately reflect how long Dan Nataf has been conducting the survey at Anne Arundel Community College. He has been doing this survey since 1995.