Poll: More unvaccinated Americans blame vaccinated Americans for the Delta surge than blame themselves

·West Coast Correspondent
·5 min read

More unvaccinated Americans blame vaccinated Americans for Delta’s devastating U.S. surge than blame themselves, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

The survey of 1,649 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Aug. 16 to 18, found that just 6 percent of those who remain unvaccinated say they are the ones who deserve “the most blame for the new surge of COVID cases in the U.S.” The share who say vaccinated Americans deserve the most blame is slightly higher (7 percent).

Likewise, when asked “how much” blame each group deserves, just 9 percent of unvaccinated Americans say they themselves deserve a “great deal of blame.” Nearly twice as many (15 percent) say vaccinated Americans deserve a great deal of blame.

The fact that unvaccinated Americans say their vaccinated peers bear more responsibility for Delta’s spread flies in the face of data showing that it’s actually unvaccinated Americans who now account for a vast majority of new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths — and it underscores just how difficult it will be to convince most unvaccinated Americans that they have a role to play in ending the pandemic.

Indeed, unvaccinated Americans tend to blame everyone but themselves for the Delta wave, with a full third saying the Biden administration (34 percent) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “and other public-health authorities” (33 percent) deserve a “great deal of blame” — nearly four times the share who say the same about themselves (again, 9 percent). Fewer (24 percent) place a great deal of blame on “Americans who refuse to wear masks and take other precautions.”

In stark contrast, nearly three-quarters of vaccinated Americans (71 percent) say unvaccinated Americans deserve a great deal of blame for Delta’s surge. Similar numbers say the same about Americans who refuse to wear masks and take other precautions (68 percent) and people who spread misinformation online and on TV (70 percent). But when asked to choose who deserves the “most blame,” the share of vaccinated Americans who say unvaccinated Americans (43 percent) dwarfs the share who say anti-maskers (26 percent) or misinformation peddlers (17 percent).

The widening divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans couldn’t come at a more perilous moment, as the average number of new daily cases soars to more than 140,000 nationwide, new daily deaths top 1,000 for the first time since March and hot spots such as Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi set new hospitalization records nearly every day.

Overall, Americans recognize the danger of Delta, which is roughly twice as transmissible as the original version of the virus and can even be spread by vaccinated people. More than two-thirds (68 percent) say they are worried about the variant, and as a result, optimism about the U.S. pandemic has plummeted to a new low, with just 33 percent of Americans now maintaining that “the worst” of it is “behind us” and 38 percent predicting the worst is “yet to come.”

Notably, this represents the first time since Yahoo News and YouGov started asking the question in April that more Americans say the latter than the former. In May, 58 percent said the worst was behind us; just 15 percent said the worst was yet to come.

On a similar note, just 12 percent of Americans are now willing to say the pandemic is "over," down by almost half (from 21 percent) since June.

Behavior has changed in response. A full 55 percent of Americans now report wearing a mask outside their home “always” or “most of the time,” up 8 points over the last two weeks (and 12 points from a low of 43 percent in mid-July). Support for the CDC’s recent decision to recommend indoor masking in high-transmission areas has increased from 56 percent to 60 percent since the last Yahoo News/YouGov poll as well.

Yet even here, polarization is undermining progress. In mid-July, both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans reported regularly wearing masks at exactly the same rate (43 percent). But since then, mask wearing by the vaccinated has increased by 22 points (to 65 percent) while mask wearing by the unvaccinated has actually fallen (to 39 percent).

In other words, the people who need the most protection from catching and spreading the virus are, paradoxically, masking up even less often now than they were before Delta took off. Instead, it’s the least vulnerable Americans — those who are vaccinated — who have been responsible for all of the recent uptick in regular masking.

What makes these findings particularly jarring is that unvaccinated Americans are more likely than vaccinated Americans to have experienced the ravages of Delta firsthand. A full 29 percent of Americans say that over the last month, either they, a family member or a close friend was infected with COVID-19, up from 23 percent two weeks ago; 14 percent say that either they, a family member or a close friend was hospitalized due to COVID-19, up from 11 percent; and 11 percent say that a family member or a close friend died due to COVID-19, up from 9 percent.

Yet across the board, it’s unvaccinated Americans who have been more exposed to such fallout, with 39 percent saying that over the last month, they or someone they know well has been infected; 20 percent saying that either they or someone they know well has been hospitalized; and 15 percent saying that someone they know well has died. For vaccinated Americans, those numbers are significantly lower: 29 percent, 12 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Regardless, just as in the last two Yahoo News/YouGov polls, more unvaccinated Americans continue to say that the COVID-19 vaccines (38 percent) pose a greater risk to their health than the virus (30 percent) — and about half (49 percent) continue to say they will “never” get vaccinated.

Another 25 percent say they are still “waiting to see what happens to others before deciding.”

A pharmacist administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a customer at a pharmacy in Livonia, Michigan on  Aug. 17, 2021. (Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
A pharmacist in Livonia, Mich., administers a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine to a customer on Tuesday. (Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,649 U.S. adults interviewed online from Aug. 16 to 18, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7 percent.

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