• Some groups are still “vaccine-hesitant” however, revealing concerns
  • Pope Francis has a pro-vaccine stance and it appears to influence Catholics 

ST. LEO, FL – A new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) suggests that more than 80 percent of people nationally, and nearly as high a percentage in Florida, believe that until the risk of COVID is reduced, mask wearing is “a good, sound policy.”

The details of the findings show that 56.1 percent nationally strongly agree that mask wearing is a good idea, and that another quarter, 25.3 percent somewhat agree, for a combined sum of 81.4 percent. Those who disagree either strongly or somewhat, or say they don’t know, came to 18.6 percent. Results were very similar in Florida, where 57 percent strongly agree that mask wearing is a good idea and another 21.2 percent somewhat agree. Those who disagree either strongly or somewhat, or say they don’t know, represent 21.8 percent.

The answers come from a survey that was conducted between February 7, 2021, and February 14, 2021, among 1,000 respondents nationally, and among a separate, parallel sample of 500 people in Florida. The margins of error for the results are plus or minus 3.0 percentage points for the national findings, and plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for those from Florida.

The polling institute presented respondents with a series of test statements about COVID, and asked people to indicate whether they agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, disagree strongly, or do not know how to respond. The table below shows, in declining order, which statements were met with the highest levels of agreement nationally.

COVID National 2021 – % agreeing Florida 2021 -% agreeing
Mask wearing until the risk of COVID is reduced is a good, sound policy    81.4    78.2
I tend to trust the science and health officials when it comes to COVID information    76.1    71.8
COVID school closings caused long-term deficits in our children related to learning, social skills and mental health    72.7    74.4
I have received or will receive the COVID vaccine when it becomes available    68.3    66.2
Life should return to normal once everyone willing has been vaccinated for COVID    65.8    63.0
All public K-12 schools should now be open    51.4    55.6
The media does influence my own views on the COVID pandemic    46.2    44.8


Dr. Cheryl Kozina, a biologist and member of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute faculty, said there is reason for “some concern” about the one-fifth of respondents who do not agree that mask wearing is a good policy, or do not know. “We obviously know that people can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus, so it’s important to wear a mask even if you’re feeling healthy,” she said.

Kozina said she is particularly interested in what people report about their willingness to be vaccinated. Kozina noted the polling institute has a similar question in its October 2020 survey. Results have edged up nationally and held fairly steady in Florida since October, when 61.9 percent nationally and 67.2 percent in Florida agreed they were willing to take a vaccine once approved by scientists.

Kozina was pleased to see this finding and attributes it to the confidence people have been able to develop in the months since the fall. “I think that the preliminary data on the success of the vaccines is clear, whether the nursing home data or what’s coming out of Israel (which has highest vaccine rates so far). Case counts are dropping, hospitalizations are dropping, deaths are dropping.”

Another finding interesting to Kozina was the high level of interest in being vaccinated among the 271 Catholics in the national sample, especially compared to the overall population. Specifically, 80.4 percent of Catholics are willing to be vaccinated, compared 68.3 percent of the overall population­—a significant difference because the gap is more than 12 percentage points. The Catholic agreement is also higher than that reported by other religious denominations.

Kozina said she attributes this to the influence of Pope Francis, who, she noted, was trained as a scientist. She said the pope’s “pro-vaccine stance, even going so far as to say that Vatican employees who refuse vaccination for anything other than medical reasons may be fired,” was important. “Both Francis and [Pope Emeritus] Benedict have been vaccinated,” she added.

On the other hand, the survey statistics also show there are some groups Kozina describes as “vaccine-hesitant.”

Only 50 percent of African-Americans in the national sample say they have or would take the vaccine, even though that was a slight improvement from the October survey. Kozina, who also teaches medical humanities classes at Saint Leo University, listed the reasons for concern over this finding.

“The reason here is obvious, a history of unethical testing and experimentation on people of color in this country is not easily forgotten. What is worrisome with these newest polling results, though, is that some of the very public steps that have been taken to try to encourage more Black people to vaccinate are not working—this includes many Black doctors allowing themselves to be filmed/photographed while being vaccinated or Al Roker of NBC being vaccinated on live TV, and Tyler Perry’s BET special, ‘COVID-19 Vaccine and the Black Community, A Tyler Perry Special.’ We need to do better to reach these communities and help to allay their (justified) fears,” said Kozina.

Looking further into the data and how various demographic groups responded, Kozina noted that people with less education and lower income levels tend to be more vaccine-hesitant. Kozina said she is generally in favor of better education in science generally, and specifically now, on how vaccines work, as she believes that will help in such public health situations.

She said she is also concerned that people should know that being able to get a vaccine is not tied to having health insurance.

Local government policies that put greater emphasis on vaccinating people in public-facing jobs would be useful in bridging the gap, Kozina suggested, as many such jobs pay lower wages. As examples, she listed: “grocery store workers, custodial staff of schools and hospitals, restaurant workers, gas station employees…the list goes on and on.”

More than 60 percent of respondents say that they agree life should return to normal once there has been widespread vaccination among all who want to receive a COVID vaccine.

Information sources

Survey results also indicate that a majority are trying to understand more by paying attention to scientists. Three-quarters of the national survey base say they “tend to trust the science and health officials when it comes to COVID information.” Not nearly as many say the media have influence upon them.

Kozina said she thinks that survey respondents honestly answered that they do not listen to media hosts or commentators, but do listen to medical experts who are guests on broadcasts and those quoted in stories.

Education concerns

The survey also reflects worries that respondents have had about school closings during the pandemic. More than half agree that public K-12 schools should be open. More than 70 percent agree that children have lost ground in learning, in social skills, and in mental health.

The educational concerns are “definitely” among the most difficult for Americans to solve, commented Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. The complexity stems from the fact that “the federal government does not run schools; states and localities do. Every state and local government has its own set of issues, including resources and political realities, so you’re going to see hundreds of different responses. Just like a lot of other issues in this pandemic, the question becomes how much power the federal government should have to enforce a response and how much should be left to the localities. There’s guidance from the feds, but the states are under no obligation to follow it. History will be the judge of which places handled the situation the best vis-a-vis their students and teachers.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 2021, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.

The statewide survey was also conducted from February 7, 2021, through February 14, 2021, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts:

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).   

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering 57 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 18,200 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 98,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.