The Goucher College gopher.

By Dariana Girao Contreras and Kiyah Venable, Goucher College

Marylanders were once more worried about an outbreak of the Zika virus and Ebola than they initially were about COVID-19. That facet of public opinion seems unbelievable now.

A few weeks after the CDC reported the first US cases of COVID-19 in January 2020, the Goucher College Poll found that 56 percent were “somewhat” or “very” concerned, and 43 percent were “not at all” or only “a little” concerned about a coronavirus outbreak. For comparison, 64 and 66 percent were “somewhat” or “very” concerned about an outbreak of Zika (2016) and Ebola (2014), respectively.

Over the last two years, the Goucher College Poll has asked Maryland residents to share their opinions on various aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. And while a new variant continues to keep COVID-19 as an unwelcome part of our lives, here are five takeaways from two years of public opinion data:

Takeaway 1: Attitudes toward vaccinations weren’t initially all that partisan, but they quickly became politically polarized.

Residents were initially evenly split on whether they’d get a no-cost, FDA-approved vaccine in October 2020 — and there was just a 7-point difference in willingness between Democrats (52%) and Republicans (44%).

By March 2021, as health professionals were administering the first doses in the state, hesitancy dropped, and 64% of Maryland residents planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible or had already received at least one dose. Efforts by health professionals to promote and administer the vaccine paid off.

Maryland eventually became one of the most vaccinated states in the country, with 78% of Maryland residents indicating they received the COVID-19 vaccine by October 2021 (a number that reflected CDC estimates). Over time the partisan gap in vaccination widened with Democrats more than 30 points more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than Republicans.

The Goucher Poll shows a widening partisan gap over Covid vaccination acceptance over time.

Takeaway 2: Gov. Larry Hogan consistently received high marks for handling the pandemic, particularly among Democrats. But his support among younger and Black Marylanders waned over time.

Hogan has earned high marks for his handling of the pandemic, exceeding his overall job approval rating. And like his fellow blue state Republican Governor Charlie Baker (Massachusetts), his approval ratings on the pandemic were consistently higher among Democrats than members of his party.

However, there was a notable decline in support among Black Marylanders (-19 points) and those ages 18-34 (-23 points) between October 2020 and March 2022.

Public opinion polls tell us what people think, but not always why people think it. But there are some likely explanations for the decline in approval among these two groups.

First, Black residents were more likely to work in occupations that were deemed essential, thus open throughout the pandemic.  Their communities faced the highest mortality rates and economic impact.  Black Marylanders didn’t differ dramatically from other racial groups in the percentage who thought the pace of reopening was “about right.” But Black Marylanders were consistently more likely to say that the pace of reopening was going “too quickly” and expressed higher levels of concern about contracting COVID-19.

The decline in support of those aged 18-34 might be due to their uniquely frustrating experience with COVID-19. For example, the youngest among the 18-34-year-olds would have lost out on in-person education and social activities that define young adulthood. And the oldest are likely to have children in school or were—and still are—too young to be vaccinated.

The Goucher Poll shows that Gov. Hogan’s approval rating for coronavirus management has been consistently strong, but with variation in important demographic subgroups.
The Goucher Poll shows that Gov. Hogan’s approval rating for coronavirus management has been consistently strong, but with variation in important demographic subgroups.

Takeaway 3: Marylanders were concerned about themselves or a close family member contracting COVID-19, but some groups in Maryland were more concerned than others.

The percent of Marylanders who said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned over themselves or a close family member contacting COVID-19 reached its highest point in March 2021 (71%) and lowest point in March 2022 (53%).

Differences in levels of concern across party, racial, and gender lines were the starkest.

In March 2021, there was a 21-point difference in levels of concern between Black residents and their white counterparts. As noted above, Black residents faced a higher mortality rate than white residents, a pattern present both in Maryland and nationwide. Women, who research by the Brookings Institute shows they bore the brunt of child and elder care responsibilities and faced more significant economic impacts, were also consistently more concerned than men.  The race gap narrowed as the pandemic wore on and vaccination rates rose, whereas the gender differences remained consistent.

Like attitudes toward vaccines, the level of concern an individual felt differed along party lines.  Across all four data points, the levels of concern expressed by Democrats averaged 30 points higher than Republicans.

The Goucher Poll shows that Democrats have been consistently more concerned about themselves or family members contracting Covid than Republicans.

Takeaway 4: The pandemic had a clear emotional impact on all Marylanders, especially Democrats and women.

The Goucher College Poll asked Marylanders in October 2020 and March 2021 about the emotional impact of the pandemic.  A majority of residents in both polls said they felt stressed and frustrated more often than before the coronavirus outbreak.  A third or more residents said they felt angry and sad more often.

But there were some gender and party differences in emotional impact.

For example, women reported being significantly more “stressed” and “sad” than their male counterparts. And Democrats were more likely than Republicans and unaffiliated voters to say they were “stressed,” “frustrated,” “angry,” and “sad.”

The Goucher Poll has found that the pandemic has had significant emotional impacts on Marylanders.

Takeaway 5: A plurality of Marylanders consistently thought the pace of easing COVID-19 restrictions was “about right.” 

Hogan’s positive marks on his handling of COVID-19 are related to a variety of factors, among them the pace of reopening. The Goucher College Poll asked residents about reopening at various stages during the pandemic. Each time a plurality of residents thought the pace was “about right.”  The most significant differences were between those who believed that reopening “too quickly” or “too slowly.”  Democrats, women, and Black residents were more likely to think the easing of restrictions was happening “too quickly.” In contrast, Republicans, men, and white residents thought things were moving “too slowly.”

The Goucher Poll has found that a plurality of Marylanders have agree with pandemic restrictions and the pace of easing.

Of course, these five takeaways are far from an exhaustive list of the interesting contours of public opinion regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. For more Goucher College Poll results, an archive is available at:

Dariana Girao Contreras is a senior political science major at Goucher College from Montgomery County.

Kiyah Venable is a senior political science major at Goucher College from Baltimore County. Venable is also a finance assistant at Rice Consulting.