New Jerseyans are split on whether schools should reopen their doors in the fall amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to results from a new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll.

Forty-six percent of adults believe schools should reopen with the appropriate protective measures in place, while 42% support a return to online learning until a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine becomes available.

“Once you account for the margin of error, people are pretty deadlocked on this issue, which is not surprising since I think everyone is struggling with what to do with the schools,” said Krista Jenkins, professor of politics and government and director of the FDU Poll. “Certainly no consensus in New Jersey.”

Republicans – perhaps taking their cue from President Donald Trump – are the group that is most supportive of returning to the classroom, with 60% in favor. The groups that are least supportive are women (42%), younger adults (35%), and Democrats and independents (38%).

“You’re going to have parents who are really eager to get their kids back in the classroom for all kinds of reasons,” Jenkins said. “But at the same time, you’re going to have a lot of people who just don’t think that it’s safe yet and we’re really risking children and certainly the teachers as well by putting kids in these very closed spaces with, despite their best efforts, not the adequate protections that are really needed at this point. There’s so much uncertainty.”

Jenkins said “opinion’s also pretty divided” on the question of whether vaccinating all K-12 and college students should be mandatory if and when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. Half say the vaccine should be required while 44 percent believe it should be a matter of personal choice.

“There’s obviously going to be concerns,” Jenkins said. “When and if this happens, there will be concerns about safety and adequate testing, side effects and all that.”

The poll found significant partisan differences on the issue. Almost two-thirds of Democrats, 62%, said the vaccine should be mandatory, while a majority of Republicans, 54%, said that it should be voluntary. Independents were closer to the Republican view: 51% said it should be a personal choice and 40% said it should be mandatory.

The poll was conducted from June 18 to 30. The sample included 809 adults, slightly more than two-thirds of whom were reached on a cell phone and the balance on a land-line phone. A sample that size has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points.

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