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Vanderbilt Poll Shows ‘Unprecedented’ Division Among Tennesseans Regarding Election, COVID-19

Blake Farmer

Before the pandemic started, it was clear that Tennesseans were divided politically.

But a new Vanderbilt Poll shows the partisan divide is deeper than ever before, especially over questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and the results of the 2020 election.


John Geer, the co-director of the poll, said in a news release Thursday that political partisanship “is the ultimate factor shaping Tennessean’s beliefs on every vital issue of the hour.”

He said the results of the poll — which is based on the responses of 1,007 registered Tennessee voters from Nov. 18 to Dec. 8 — is a signal to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden about the challenges they face when attempting to unify the country.

The most significant divide can be seen in the decision to wear a mask.

Twenty-two percent of Tennessee Republican voters said they do not wear a mask or face covering when out in public. That’s in comparison to a rare 0% of Democrats responding the same.

In terms of how the new vaccine against COVID-19 is perceived, the results weren’t much different.

Although 75% of Tennesseans polled said they are likely to get vaccinated, about 36% of Republicans said they are unlikely to do so, compared to 15% of Democrats.

This is despite a surge in the share of Tennesseans concerned that they or a family member will contract the virus. Back in the spring, 37% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats were concerned. Now, 54% of Republicans have expressed worries, while 88% of the Democrats feel the same.

Most Republicans do not recognize President-elect Biden as the legitimate winner

The poll also shows that only 15% of Republican voters think Biden is the legitimate winner of the presidential election. Seventy percent of them agreed that Biden is trying “to steal the election.”

This is a stark difference from Democrats — 95% of Dems think Biden is the legitimate winner, while 70% think it’s Trump who is trying to steal the election.

Geer warned about what these numbers could mean for the future of the country.

“In no other time in recent history have we seen voters so skeptical and dissatisfied with election results,” Geer said. “Even those voters satisfied with the outcome remain concerned that the opponent is trying to steal the election. Such obstinance must be curbed or could result in a long-term decline in the public’s faith in democratic institutions.” 

Clarification: An earlier version of this story referred to registered Republican and registered Democratic voters. Tennessee voters do not specify a party in their registrations.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
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