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Disagreements Over COVID-19 Prevention Measures Strain Relationships with Friends and Family

The South Dakota COVID-19 Family Impact Survey 2021 was conducted from July 31st to August 14th, 2021 by The SDSU Poll, a research group housed in the School of American and Global Studies at South Dakota State University. This survey builds upon similar surveys conducted by The SDSU Poll in October 2020 and April 2021. In this poll, a total of 573 registered voters in South Dakota completed our survey about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their daily lives. The margin of error of this survey was +/- 4 %, on par with other state-wide polls.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe effect on the lives and families of South Dakotans. The pandemic, particularly how to best manage it, has been a divisive issue in our state. Topics of disagreement range from doubting the existence of COVID-19 to questioning the effectiveness of masks and social distancing and the safety of vaccines. We have reported significant gaps in attitudes between Republicans and Democrats in South Dakota on these issues. Did these differences in opinion affect the relationships South Dakotans have with friends, coworkers, partners, and families? And, what has been the impact of these disagreements on their mental and emotional well-being?

Unvaccinated South Dakotans Report More Disagreements with Friends or Family Members

Our results show that approximately two-thirds (65%) of South Dakotans say they experienced disagreements either with friends only (13%), family members only (12%), or both (39%) about topics related to COVID-19 mitigation strategies such as vaccines, face masks, and social distancing. 35% of South Dakotans reported no disagreements. We can observe some differences between fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated people. Approximately 61% of vaccinated South Dakotans report disagreements either with friends only (11%), family members only (15%), or both (35%). This number is lower than non-vaccinated South Dakotans of which 71% report experiencing disagreements either with friends only (14%), family members only (11%), or both (47%). We think that this difference is rooted in the fact that non-vaccinated people are a numerical minority and often put in a defensive position when interacting with vaccinated folks. Additionally, our polling shows that vaccine hesitancy is based on deeply held beliefs, again, putting unvaccinated people in a more defensive posture. Our results show that the pandemic has touched upon all aspects of the lives of South Dakotans, even the relationships with friends and family are affected.

Pie charts showing that amongst vaccinated voters 11% reported disagreement amongst friend only, 15% with family only, and 35% with both (total of 61%). Amongst unvaccinated voters the results were 14% amongst friends only, 11% with family members only, and 47% with both (total of 71%).

Disagreements Over COVID-19 Mitigation Measures Have Impacted Relationships and Well-Being of South Dakotans                        

We also find that these disagreements have caused social and psychological issues for South Dakotans. About 39% of our respondents who reported disagreements over COVID-19 mitigation strategies with friends or family, said it caused them a great deal of stress, while 28% reported that these disagreements caused them to lose their temper. Approximately 30% of the South Dakotans that mentioned disagreements with family members over COVID-19, said it damaged their family relationships. Finally, 37% of those who mentioned disagreements with friends, stopped socializing with one or more of their friends as a consequence. These results make it clear that the damage caused by the pandemic goes beyond physical health and economic impacts; it has also taken a toll on people’s mental and emotional well-being, and our inter-personal relationships. It will likely take some time to repair these relationships that have been damaged by the pandemic.

bar charts showing that amongst our respondents that reported disagreements over COVID mitigation measures 39% said it cause a great deal of stress, 28% lost their temper, 30% said it damaged family relationships, and 37% said they stopped socializing with a friend or friends.

In our next press release we will look into the opinions that South Dakota citizens and healthcare workers have on the right of patients to know their providers’ vaccination status and the right of health care providers to refuse care to unvaccinated patients.

Contributors: Abdallah Bahdahdah PhD, Filip Viskupic PhD & David Wiltse PhD




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