For Americans overall: Yes. And the percentage is growing.
The majority of Americans now believe that both exhibit and performance-based organizations should require proof of vaccination. On the whole, 56.8% of adult Americans and 71.1% of likely visitors (people who actually attend these organizations) now believe US cultural entities should require visitors to show proof of vaccination. In September, only 48% of likely visitors believed that proof of vaccination should be an admission requirement.
“NOPE. Not in my town!” Some leaders are certainly accurate in this reaction! We see significant variance in sentiments across the United States. Things aren’t even consistent within states, let alone regions of the US. Consider, for example, major cities within the state of Ohio: Among high-propensity visitors residing within metro Cleveland, 64.8% believe that organizations should require proof of vaccination. Travel two hours down the highway to Columbus, and this belief among high-propensity visitors increases to 71.9%. Keep heading a few more hours south on the same highway to Cincinnati, and the belief that proof of vaccinations should be required by organizations decreases to 54.5%.
Even with regional variance, however, a majority of Americans increasingly feel safe visiting both exhibit and performance-based entities when vaccinations are required, and the trendline is important to note regardless of where your cultural entity is located. Even if your organization is not able to make this a requirement by law or if yours is a particularly red county, trends in overall sentiment and behaviors for the rest of the United States may impact tourism, strategic planning, and market potential considerations.
A note: This research focuses on requiring proof of vaccination, and does not specifically dive into how potential visitors feel about presenting a recent negative test for those who are unvaccinated (including people who are unable to get vaccinated for medical, religious, or availability reasons). Presenting a negative test was not mentioned with sufficient frequency to make the list on what will make people feel safe in the first chart. Indeed, this sentiment may ascend in the coming weeks and months – particularly as the government has launched a massive initiative to deliver hundreds of millions of testing kits to US households. Regardless, while the specific focus of this article is on sentiments concerning proof of vaccination requirements, in no way does it intend to minimize the potential impacts of testing policies and protocols on a visitor’s perception of feeling safe while visiting a cultural organization.
“Show me the data!” I hear you! Let’s do it.
What makes potential visitors feel safe?
Let’s start with a metric that regular readers know well. We’ve been tracking these findings since the pandemic started, and our last update was published in September 2021. Today’s update quantifies attitudes and beliefs at the end of 2021 (EOY 2021) and includes 1,433 potential visitors (high-propensity visitors) to cultural organizations in the United States.
As many know, IMPACTS Experience develops surveys that are not composed of a simple “pick the best answer” question. Instead, we ask people, “What would make you feel safe and comfortable visiting a(n) [insert organization type]?” Then, we organize peoples’ answers to this question using a process called lexical analysis that allows us to broadly categorize responses from people using their own words. The technologies that enable this process help to minimize the risks of unintentional biases that occur when facilitators translate or summarize a respondent’s statements. Finally, these categorized responses are used to populate the response range of a multiple-choice question. In other words, we did not internally brainstorm these options and present them in a survey based on our best guess of what people would say. The options came directly from survey respondents.
We’ve seen several changes over time. For instance, when the pandemic first started and the CDC was recommending that people not wear masks, “mandatory face coverings” didn’t make the list at all. (Remember when this thing was only going to last a few weeks and masks were deemed completely unnecessary if not misdirected as we all scrubbed our door handles?) This past September, we saw “requiring proof of vaccination” make it to the list. As of the start of 2022, requiring proof of vaccination is now the second biggest factor for making potential visitors to exhibit-based entities feel comfortable, and the third for performance-based entities. In both cases, over 64% of respondents said that requiring proof of vaccination would make them feel safe and comfortable.
One reason why the ability to be outdoors may be a bigger factor contributing to the perceived safety of performance-based entities when compared to exhibit-based entities is because performance-based experiences generally allow for less freedom of movement. If someone observes another patron suffering from a coughing spell in a gallery, then they can stealthily move on to the next room. However, if there’s a patron coughing in the row behind you at a performance, you’re a bit stuck. The ability to be outdoors may reduce the perceived risk of sitting near somebody potentially suffering symptoms for a duration of time.
Aside from this difference, you can see that performance and exhibit-based visitors are now tracking relatively similarly in terms of what they say will make them safe and comfortable visiting. This may be good news for performance-based organizations, for which potential visitors were more comparatively concerned compared to exhibit-based organizations in terms of some safety protocols.
You may wonder why “availability of the coronavirus vaccine” isn’t even higher. It was at the top before and shortly after the vaccine became available. It’s now been available for some time and we’ve all learned that just because a vaccine is available doesn’t mean that everyone will get it. Moreover, folks may have (or regularly interact with) children and individuals who are unable to be vaccinated or haven’t received their dose or booster yet.
What percentage of Americans believe cultural entities should require proof of vaccination when they visit?
At IMPACTS Experience, this research required conversation about how we may be most helpful given the fact that our country is rather divided (albeit unequally) on this topic. Should we show this research by region? By states that voted red vs. blue in the last presidential election? After contemplating multiple ways to show this research that may be most helpful to a broad swath of cultural executives, we landed on publishing the national findings overall.
Why? Because there are blue states with lower vaccination requirement preferences (e.g., Georgia), as well as states in the same region that have significant differences in their vaccination preferences (e.g., California and Arizona). From our data-based perspective, the best way for cultural executives to use this research may be to (1) understand the national trendline, and (2) uncover – with hard numbers – where things stand for the community their own organization serves.
We’ve got you on the first count in this article! For the second, we are grateful to have several thousand subscribers representing several thousand cultural entities throughout the country… and it would require a lot of charts to represent every county or organization for which we have dedicated readers. That said, we’re happy to work with your organization or community and provide more specific information for you if you’d like to dive deeper with hard numbers.
Here’s the point: We’re showing you clean, hard facts for the overall US population and the trendline for likely visitors on the whole. But we’re still living in a fractured nation on this topic (though less so now than in September), and sentiments may continue to shift as more employers and schools mandate vaccinations and emergency use authorizations for vaccines gain full FDA approval. In short, it would not be altogether surprising to observe the number of people resistant to vaccine requirements – particularly people who profile as high-propensity visitors – continue to decline over time. However, the strength of individual resistors’ sentiments may harden, keeping this topic a potentially loud one.
55% of all Americans and nearly 69% of likely visitors to exhibit-based organizations believe these entities should require proof of vaccination when they next visit.
Let’s start with exhibit-based organizations such as zoos, aquariums, museums, historic sites, botanic gardens, and science centers. The recent update for EOY 2021 contemplates 1,656 US adults, 584 of whom profiled as high-propensity visitors to exhibit-based organizations. The “US adults” cohort is exactly as it sounds – the findings are representative of the overall US adult population. High-propensity visitors are those who have been identified by IMPACTS Experience models as having the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of actually attending a cultural organization. High-propensity visitors include both those who have recently visited and those who have an interest in visiting but have not chosen to do so recently.
This information is informative regardless of where your cultural organization is located on a physical map of the United States. More than half of all Americans think exhibit-based entities should require proof of vaccination, and this has risen notably since September. Not only that, nearly 69% of likely visitors believe that these entities should require proof of vaccination. From a research perceptive on a divided topic, that is a high percentage of likely visitors!
We can ascertain that, in the long-term, entities that do not require proof of vaccination may stand to lose more attendance than they gain in many situations.
We’re not suggesting that every museum in America should – or even can – require proof of vaccination right now. Clearly, this is a nuanced topic rife with potential political and socio-cultural pitfalls. However, simply being aware of the data and the country’s current trendline may prove valuable to any organization.
58.9% of all Americans and 74.4% of likely patrons to performance-based organizations believe these entities should require proof of vaccination when they next visit.
Now let’s take a look at performance-based entities such as theaters, symphonies, and ballets. The recent update for EOY 2021 contemplates 1,198 US adults, 435 of whom profile as high-propensity visitors to performance-based organizations.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the percentage of people who believe performance-based entities should require proof of vaccination is higher than observed for exhibit-based entities. This may be due to the fact that – as previously mentioned – there is a perception that these experiences are mostly indoors and generally lack freedom of movement compared to a museum visit. These findings suggest that requiring proof of vaccination may be especially important for performance-based institutions on the whole.
For many, these high numbers suggest that requiring proof of vaccination may become – or may already be – an expectation in some areas. We strongly encourage executives to understand the real numbers for their own community. These are times for rigorous, clinical data analysis, not the subjective assessment of sentiments based on a handful of social media comments. Those folks who are the loudest don’t necessarily represent a majority sentiment, but availability bias can cause leaders to think that volume of voice correlates with the representation of a sentiment in a population.
No matter how you cut it, we live in a divided nation in terms of safety protocols…though, again, it is not an even split. To require proof of vaccination is a decision. To not require proof of vaccination is a decision. It may or may not be in an organization’s control, but these decisions (or lack thereof) are likely to have an impact either way.
On the whole, most Americans – and especially those who actually attend cultural organizations – believe proof of vaccination should be shown as a condition of admittance. Will these numbers keep increasing as we continue to live alongside the virus? Maybe. Will they decrease as Omicron numbers slow? Maybe. For now, our divided nation has a definite lean in terms of its preference, and the results of any policy decision are likely to be at least a little bit noisy.
We look forward to keeping you posted. Be safe in the meantime.
IMPACTS Experience provides data for the world’s leading organizations through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
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