OPINION: Educating the public is key to combating COVID-19
As health officials distribute a long-awaited vaccine for COVID-19 in Oregon, a statewide survey shows that Oregonians' opinions on the vaccine split on familiar geographic and political fault lines. However, the same research shows something that may be less expected: an education divide.
According to a recently completed survey conducted by DHM Research and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a strong majority of Oregonians (59%) said they would be willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available.
Only 38%, however, said they would be very willing. Willingness to take the shot is much higher in the tri-county area (69%) than the Willamette Valley (58%) and the rest of the state (44%). And Democrats are twice as willing to take the vaccine than Republicans (79% vs. 40%).
There is a lot of hand wringing in Oregon about the urban-rural and blue-red (Democrat-Republican) divides. Our research shows that for public policy issues like taking the COVID-19 vaccine perhaps we should focus on something else: the education levels of Oregonians.
Across the state, college graduates are much more willing to take the vaccine (75%) than their less-educated counterparts, as are highest income households (74%). Both these divides are greater than the urban-rural divide for the question.
This education divide is seen in the results to other COVID-19 questions in the survey. There were significant differences by education level for the willingness to have friends come over to your home for a dinner indoors and having relatives stay at your home for multiple days during the season. For both, Oregonians with less education are more willing to take the risk.
Oregonians with less education also are less likely to know anybody who was infected with, hospitalized for or died due to COVID-19. And they are more likely to feel the news coverage about coronavirus has been generally exaggerated.
COVID-19 isn't the only issue for which we see an education divide In Oregon. In the October DHM Research/OVBC survey we asked Oregonians about climate change.
Roughly two-thirds of Oregonians feel that global climate change will harm them personally at some point in their lifetime. No surprise, there's an urban-rural divide: Tri-county 72%, Willamette Valley 62%, and rest-of-state 53%. And there's a whopping political divide: Democrats 88% vs. Republicans 26%.
As for education, college graduates are more likely than their counterparts to feel climate change will harm them personally at rates similar to the urban-rural divide. The same pattern holds when Oregonians of various education levels are asked about their willingness to pay for efforts to combat climate change.
Much has been said, much is being said and much will be said about the urban-rural and political divides in Oregon, but there's not much we can be done about them. People live where they live and political party identification is firm in these days of media-driven tribalism.
The surveys and elaborative focus group research, however, do point to a divide we may be able to bridge. It's called public education.
This education is more than reading, writing and arithmetic. It's about informing Oregonians about the value of vaccinations, the effects of climate change and the contribution public services make to the livability and quality of life we have in our communities. It touches on civics, the basic sciences, geography, history and personal finance.
Over the next 12 months, OVBC — working with Pamplin Media Group, EO Media and other news outlets — hopes to play a role in that educational effort. Our goals are to make the voices of all Oregonians heard through truly independent and non-partisan research and make the findings understandable and easily available to inform Oregonians working to build stronger communities across the state. OVBC and its partners want to shine a light on what unites us and to better understand what divides us.
More than a penny for your thoughts
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is committed to the highest level of public opinion research. To obtain that, the non-profit is building the largest online research panel of Oregonians in history to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way.
Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more visit oregonvbc.org/about-the-panel and join the panel.
Adam Davis is co-founder of DHM Research, an independent, nonpartisan firm, and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. He has been conducting opinion research in Oregon for more than 40 years.
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