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Expand chart
Data: 2021 Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Unvaccinated Americans' already low trust in the federal government plummeted over the course of 2021, exacerbating the challenges in getting the pandemic under control, according to a year's worth of data from the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: The implications extend beyond shots and boosters. Unvaccinated Americans in our surveys were far less likely to limit their social interactions or to wear masks outside the home, which correlated significantly with their reported rates of COVID-19 infection.

What we're watching: Republicans and Black Americans make up two disproportionately high segments of the unvaccinated population — but the survey found they're managing that decision in dramatically different ways.

  • Black Americans reported much higher levels of mask use, social distancing and trust in the federal government regardless of their vaccination status. That suggests they take the virus seriously even as many struggle with hesitancy about vaccines and the historical connections to racism and medical experimentation.
  • By contrast, Republicans were far less likely to wear masks and more likely to say they have returned to "normal" pre-COVID life.
  • 81% of Black Americans — but just 34% of unvaccinated white Americans — said they were wearing masks outside the home some or all of the time in the second half of this year.

What they're saying: "As Omicron spreads through the country, the groups that are going to be hit the hardest are going to be these white, unvaccinated populations who have essentially stopped taking precautions and have returned to their ordinary lives," said Ipsos pollster and senior vice president Chris Jackson.

  • "They're likely to see the most elevated new cases and potentially the most elevated numbers of fatalities."
  • "The people who remain unvaccinated have almost no trust in the government," Jackson said. "It doesn't really matter what Biden says. They don't believe anything you're saying."

By the numbers: Unvaccinated Americans who wore masks all the time were less likely than other unvaccinated Americans to report testing positive for the virus in the second half of the year, a time period in which Americans widely had access to the shots.

  • 18% of the unvaccinated who said they wear masks all the time outside the home said they'd tested positive for the virus in the second half of the year.
  • 25% of the unvaccinated who wear masks sometimes, but not all the time, said they had tested positive.
  • And 30% of the unvaccinated who said they occasionally or never wear masks said they had tested positive.

Trust in the federal government dropped across the board, as the Delta and then Omicron variants emerged and the pandemic refused to end.

  • But trust among America's unvaccinated dropped more precipitously — from 43% in the first half of the year to 22% in the second half of the year. (Among the vaccinated, trust dropped from 67% to 60%.)
  • White unvaccinated Americans posted the lowest trust numbers, dropping from 38% to 15%.
  • Among unvaccinated Black Americans, trust started out higher and dropped less, from 55% to 39%.
  • Trust among vaccinated white Americans dipped from 62% to 56%, while among Black Americans it dropped from 82% to 70%.

Between the lines: Part of the reason the trust numbers dropped so significantly among the unvaccinated may be that those with higher levels of trust got vaccinated in the summer or fall, leaving a more concentrated population of distrusting people in the unvaccinated category.

Methodology: These are findings from the 2021 Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index series conducted over 14 waves by Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®.

  • Data for the first half of the year sample covers waves fielded between Jan. 8-June 28, 2021, with 14,566 U.S. adults. Data for the second half of the year sample covers waves fielded between July 16-Dec. 13, 2021, with 11,431 U.S. adults.
  • The margin of sampling error for both samples is ±2.0 percentage points.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

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