A majority of Orange County residents support coronavirus vaccines, masks and other public health safety measures during the pandemic, according to a recent Chapman University survey of roughly 700 county residents.
But, when viewed through a political lens, there’s stark divisions between residents who identify with one the two major parties.
“This has caused tremendous political division,” Chapman University political science professor Fred Smoller said.
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Smoller and his colleague, Mike Moodian, conducted Chapman University’s annual Orange County Annual Survey and found 81% of survey respondents who identify as Democrats said they would get vaccinated, compared to 58% of Republicans polled.
“There is this kind of reasonable silent majority, if you will, who plan to get vaccinated,” Moodian said.
Overall, the poll found 69% of respondents plan on getting the shot and 11% said they received at least one shot.
Numerous national polls have shown a similar sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans on vaccines and the pandemic in general.
According to a March survey from Pew Research, 83% of Democrats said they’ll get vaccinated, compared to 56% of Republicans.
Moodian also noted there’s a bigger party divide on how to reopen the economy.
Chapman’s survey found 93% of people who identified as Democrats said containing the virus was more important than reopening the economy. Meanwhile 32% of self-identified Republicans said so.
The results show that 61% of no party preference voters surveyed said they supported containing the virus over reopening the economy.
Of the roughly 700 people surveyed, 64% said stopping the virus from spreading was more important than reopening businesses during the pandemic.
Democrats make up 37% of Orange County’s roughly 1.8 million registered voters, followed by Republicans at 34% and no party preference at just over 24%, according to data from the OC Registrar of Voters.
“The hardest piece is the politicization of the pandemic and how a small group of folks really have the loudest voice and misrepresent our community. You probably have heard me constantly saying that I don’t believe that Orange County is the hub of anti-vax, anti-masks folks in the country because our metrics for COVID are really, really good,” said OC Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau during Wednesday’s panel.
The two professors also mentioned Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, when hundreds of people showed up to protest vaccine passports and mandated shots, even though county officials have repeatedly said they’re not going to force passports or vaccinations on any one.
“There has been this small, very small extreme right wing contingent that has been very loud,” Smoller said. “They do pack the Board of Supervisors meetings and we saw a major policy change yesterday.”
A majority of Supervisors voted to suspend looking into providing people digital proof of vaccinations — something that sports venues and concert halls could ask for if they want to increase the amount of people they let in, under state reopening guidelines.
FBI and CDC officials have warned against scammers selling fake vaccination cards to people over the past few months.
Chau previously told county supervisors the digital proof of vaccination would be helpful to residents if businesses decide not to accept the small white cards as proof of vaccination because forgeries are popping up more frequently.
“The state guidance for business now currently [says], and even beyond the blueprint after June 15, is that the state would allow businesses to increase the capacity only if they’re admitting people who have proof — proof — that they have been fully vaccinated or tested negative,” Chau said during Wednesday’s panel, adding a Southern California pharmacist was recently caught selling fake vaccination cards.
Chau said the survey backs up what he’s been saying about county residents for months: most people are adhering to public health guidance during the pandemic and are willing to get vaccinated.
“[The survey] further affirms that the majority of our residents here in Orange County are trying very hard, believing in true science, believing in what’s the right thing to do for the community,” he said.
Chapman University officials said they invited county supervisors to the panel, but only Supervisor Katrina Foley showed up.
“Part of why we only hear from a minority viewpoint is because the county, frankly, does not enforce masks, does not enforce social distancing when the people come to speak. So therefore a lot of people who have an opposite opinion do not come down to the county,” Foley said.
Foley, the only supervisor to back the digital vaccination records at Tuesday’s meeting, said there’s been an organized misinformation campaign around the issue.
“The misinformation campaign, it’s very damaging to our public health efforts. One this was always a voluntary opt-in program. Two, this was never a mandate … Three, the main purpose of having this convenient application is that we’re a digital world. Universities, Cal States, colleges — they’re all requiring vaccinations,” Foley said, adding that public comments aren’t balanced because the county doesn’t allow people to call in.
Cities throughout OC, like Irvine, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Buena Park, Newport Beach and others allow for phone-in or virtual public comments.
“We do need to hear a balanced view,” Foley said.
Meanwhile, Orange County’s virus hospitalizations slightly dipped.
As of Thursday, 80 people were hospitalized, including 15 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
“That’s the lowest we’ve ever seen,” Chau said during Wednesday’s panel, when 83 people were hospitalized.
The virus has now killed 5,026 people — more than nine times the flu kills on a yearly average.
COVID deaths surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC.
It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively.
Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest state health data.
According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over
2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio