Are public opinion polls particularly bad for Covid?

Yes, I think so.  I gave the crash course in public opinion for my Intro to American Government class last week.  Even though public opinion polls are my livelihood, I definitely encourage a strong skepticism.  Among types of polls I tell my students to be wary of are questions that ask people to explain their behavior/reasons for their behavior and questions that ask them to predict a future behavior (other than casting a particular ballot).  The truth is that people are horrible at introspection.  There’s always questions on “why did you vote for X?”  The real answer is almost always some variation on “Because I’m a Democrat/Republican” but nobody ever says that.  Rather it’s “shares my values” or “better candidate” or “other party will ruin or America” or whatever.  Likewise, questions regularly ask for speculation such as “if Candidate X did/said Y, how would that affect your vote” and lots of people answer on some variation of “yes, in substantial ways” when the reality is, in all likelihood, you will have long forgotten this and you are just voting on partisanship anyway.   

And, yet, what are we doing with so many Covid questions.  Why have you not gotten the vaccine.  My hypothesis is that for many the answer is something along the lines of “just this vague anxiety about it.”  That’s not a survey option and even if it was, nobody would choose it when you could say, “well, the vaccine is still technically experimental.”  Of course, we now have evidence pretty much none of those people were actually holding off for that reason as there’s been no change in rates since approval.  

Or I’m really supposed to believe nearly 90% of the unvaccinated would quit their jobs first?  Please!

Of the unvaccinated respondents, 84% said their decision against immunization wouldn’t change if the vaccines had no side effects and 87% said they still wouldn’t get the shots if their employer mandated them. Just 5% and 4% of respondents, respectively, said those things would make them “much more likely” to change their minds, the survey shows. Pressure from family members made little difference, with just 2% saying that would make them much more likely to get the shots.

Anyway, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing (including Covid research) if I didn’t believe in the value of public opinion polling.  But, we always need a healthy skepticism of just what and how we are measuring.  And, I really think that features of attitudes about Covid and vaccination mean an extra-heavy dose of skepticism is called for.  

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