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The answers to Is opposition to vaccination correlated with other political beliefs? suggest there is no strong correlation between opposition to vaccination and other political beliefs. The question is from 2015 and the most-upvoted answer cites a study based on data from 2013-2014.

A comment on a recent answer suggests that Anti-vaxxers in the US used to be a mixed bag, politically. With covid that sentiment became strong right wing. So maybe there's something about COVID-19 that makes opposition different compared to other vaccines.

Is this true? Is this a US-specific phenomenon? In Germany, I had the impression the anti-vaxxers are still from all over the political spectrum (even if the right-wing opponents seem to shout the loudest). Why is the political division on discussions on COVID-19 vaccines or vaccine mandates different from for earlier vaccines?

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    It should be noted that correlation does not imply causation. It could be that there are other circumstances that both influence other political beliefs and opposition to Covid 19 and create a correlation there.
    – Trilarion
    Nov 7, 2022 at 19:46
  • I didn't get COVID vaccinated until the Novavax protein sub-unit version was released. There are key differences with the Novavax version that make it seem both safer and more compatible with my religious beliefs. Even though I am a conservative Republican, my decision to wait for Novavax had nothing to do with politics.
    – Shawn Eary
    Nov 9, 2022 at 17:32
  • @ShawnEary and yet, such decision is strongly correlated with voting Republican
    – user253751
    Nov 10, 2022 at 7:22
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    I didn't know there were religions with rules about mRNA vaccines vs. protein sub-unit vaccines, but maybe I didn't read my bible carefully enough…
    – gerrit
    Nov 10, 2022 at 7:26
  • Why does the linked question title say "opposition to vaccination" and yours says "opposition to <…> vaccines"? I can easily see how people can be against mandatory vaccination, and not the vaccine itself, so the linked title seems more accurate
    – WhatHiFi
    Nov 10, 2022 at 10:21

9 Answers 9

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First, are Reps more opposed? Apparently so - this study doesn't cite the numbers per party clearly, but you can see the state by state breakdown strongly correlates.

To understand why, you first need to compare covid to the 1918 Flu epidemic, rather than to other vaccinated diseases. During that Spanish Flu, there was some differentiation between take-it-seriously (and hurt the economy) regions/cities and keep-the-economy going areas *.

Privileging the economy and companies is usually a Republican differentiator. So is opposing government oversight that is believed to be unnecessary.

And here's some more Pew Research goodies, dated from July.

Majority of Republicans say country has given too little priority to respecting individuals’ choices during the coronavirus outbreak ... For instance, 75% of Democrats say COVID-19 vaccines have been extremely or very effective at limiting the spread of the coronavirus; 16% say they have been somewhat effective and just 9% describe them as not too or not at all effective.

Republicans offer a much more skeptical view: A slightly larger share of Republicans say vaccines have been not too or not at all effective at limiting the spread of the coronavirus than say they have been extremely or very effective (39% vs. 32%); 29% fall between these two views and say vaccines have been somewhat effective.

Trump made an early call to shut down travel with China and later Europe, along with a circuit-breaker lockdown. This was in hindsight a good call, but it quickly turned into a political liability, with among other things a Lt Governor in Texas stating that old people should not be afraid to lay down their life for the country and take risks.

By Easter Trump wanted to open back up and many measures to slow down covid were deemed "too Democrat" by Reps. Witness the mask and distancing drama in places like Florida. The fact that the brunt of the early deaths were in Dem New England also took away much urgency. So - government control on covid => bad (in most Republican cases). Trump follows that narrative from May on, downplaying the risks of the disease and staying well in line with his base. He certainly didn't want to do anything that would put his reelection at risk.

Trump starts vaccine research right away - again a good call. But it doesn't, can't, arrive in time to save him at the polls.

After the election, any attempts by the government to push vaccines is - you guessed, Dem governmental overreach. The examples of Europe (Macron) and Canada to push passports were not followed, but there were some attempts at mandating within industries, thus reinforcing negative perception of vaccines.

It would have helped if Trump had stood up for "his vaccines" in late 2020, early 2021, but IIRC he even initially demurred even to state if he had been vacced. By then, Trump was probably hesitant to appear "weak" ** to his followers. Vaccines could have been adopted as a low-cost, low-risk, way to get back to pre-Covid normalcy, but that message was never pushed by most Republican politicians or pundits, only the narrative of government overreach.

It's not so much that Trump himself was anti-vaxx - he certainly talked them up from May to October, saying that would come in any time and save the day. It is that, past his electoral loss, he lacked the leadership to use his influence to promote his own administration's vaccines to the Republican electorate, in a non-mandated way. He could have said "No mandates! But, if you want, roll up your sleeves to bring America back to normal, save businesses! I made them, they're the best vaccines!".

He didn't.

I will also add that, unlike 2015 and before, the conspiracy/science-denial belief has swung firmly into the Rep camp. While individual anti-capitalist subgroups hold conspirational beliefs against Big Pharma and the like there is nothing to compare in breadth and looniness to QAnon's beliefs systems, which are influential enough to have several candidate lawmakers campaigning on their tickets. Few Reps will directly believe in QAnon - shape shifting aliens and Satanist pedophiles are a bit much - but they will have many more opportunities to be exposed to its corrosive messages than the average Dem will have from lefty anti-vaccine conspiracy groups.

p.s. This was answered from the US PoV. Canada has more or less the same divide (our right absorbs quite a lot of political thought from the US). No idea how other Western countries figure, but I doubt it's as clearcut.

p.p.s It is not necessary to give me all sorts of feedback about the efficacy, or not, of Trump's early covid measures. The point here really isn't whether they were efficient or not - the point is that they were considered too restrictive on businesses and personal liberties by a significant proportion of Republicans (see my 3rd paragraph from top as to why).

* The Great Influenza IIRC pretty much went on the record that strong anti-flu measures correlated with less long term economic disruption in 1918. But it clearly stated that it had been a subject of disagreement.

** Esper's Sacred Oath goes on at length how Trump hated to give the appearance of personal or national weakness. There are documented cases, such as the initial response to the Charlottesville car attack, where Trump initially said something more or less centrist, before tacking back to the right when called out on it by Fox News and the like.

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    You're probably giving Trump way too much credit here, given that he's extensively downplayed the pandemic, downplayed the importance of wearing a mask (said he's not doing it), downplayed the number positive covid tests, downplayed the risk of severe symptoms, etc.
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 7, 2022 at 19:49
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    I am only giving him those bits. For the rest, yes, he's been his toxic self. And you can guess that shutting travel to China and Europe was politically appealing to him anyway. But still, he could have backed vaccines later on: he had been very, very, emphatic about how he launched their research and they would save the day. Also, Trump briefly shined in March - May, especially after he supposedly visited a dying friend. Nov 7, 2022 at 19:51
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    But Trump was and isn't anti-vaxx, is he?
    – gerrit
    Nov 7, 2022 at 21:46
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    "Privileging the economy and companies is usually a Republican differentiator." – was this already the case in 1918? (If I understand right, since then the positions shifted quite a bit.) If not, why bring it up here? Nov 9, 2022 at 0:47
  • @PaŭloEbermann The point is that 1918 also saw a full-on epidemic and the US saw organized pushback against the economic fallout of restrictions then. This happened again in 2020, with pre-vaccine governmental interventions. The 2020 party was the Reps, because that is the party that gets most annoyed at governmental intrusions. Once that developed into a full blown movement, the aggravation with covid measures persisted for many, even though non-mandated vaccines seem to be a) not very coercive to individuals cuz not mandated and b) very effective at stopping economic chaos. Nov 9, 2022 at 21:19
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There are some fairly pedestrian and predictable reasons for this correlation

As a preliminary observation, there are different types of opposition to "the Covid vaccines", involving different types of things/policies/actions that are actually opposed. Some people oppose coercive mandates only but have no problem with the vaccines themselves, some oppose employer action to impose work requirements on employees, and some believe that the vaccines themselves are ineffective or harmful (and sometimes this judgment differs with regard to the particular vaccine at issue). Some have even weaker positions, such as a risk-reward calculation on the vaccine that leads them to believe that the risk of adverse effects outweighs the reward of protection from Covid (which can depend a lot on individual factors like age and comorbidities). Since the question glosses over these distinctions I will try to give a generic answer that also glosses over these distinctions, but they are important in understanding the political landscape on this issue.

With the above caveat out of the way, my observation has been that opposition to the Covid vaccines is most pronounced among some particular political subgroups, many of which are right-wing but some of which are traditionally left-wing (e.g., traditional naturalists and hippies), resulting in a somewhat mixed bag of people, but with a strong contingent on the right. So I agree with your general observation that there is some degree of political mixture here. However, while the group is mixed politically, the most dominant and well-developed political philosophy that augments the position against vaccination use/mandates is mostly libertarian/conservative, and most of the primary avocates with broad platforms appeal to arguments that are common on the political right, even if they are not themselves consistently right-wing. Consequently, the leftist subgroups that exist within this crowd tend to get "pulled to the right" to some extent by the particular philosophical issues under discussion and the most prominent voices. I will briefly discuss each of the main groups I see and the correlation that arises.

First the "right wing" opposition, which I see as a mixture of some libertarians, some conservatives, etc. There are some predictable reasons why this group has a higher average rate of scepticism towards Covid vaccination than the population in general. Direct causal factors giving rise to higher rates of opposition to vaccination include: (a) a higher general scepticism towards factual assertions made by government and corporate actors; (b) a greater awareness of, and stronger belief in the likelihood of regulatory capture and consequent corruption of agencies; (c) greater awareness of historical episodes of corruption and coercion in the medical field based on institutional capture and poor science; (d) a stronger presumption in favour of individual liberty, which can lead to greater scepticism towards factual claims used to bolster arguments for coercive intervention (e.g., vaccine mandates, loss of jobs, etc.); (e) a generally higher level of psychological "disagreeableness", which generally describes greater scepticism and opposition to authority and greater tendency to hold views that oppose the mainstream; and (f) a general preference tending towards natural methods of fitness/health such as exercise, vitamins, diet, etc., over pharmeceuticals and other drugs. For example, Baumgaertner et al (2018) find that intention to vaccinate is associated with trust in the medical profession, which is lower among conservatives than the general population. Other non-causal reasons that would strengthen the correlation include a higher preponderance of males and other demographic traits that correlate both with political ideology and position on Covid vaccines.

As to the "left wing" opposition, this appears to consist of a few subgroups whose opposition to vaccines/mandates is driven more by personal factors than political ideology per se. One observable contingent here are the "naturalists" and "hippies" who have long had a strong aversion to pharmeceuticals and corporate pharmeceutical companies. Many of these people are traditionally left-wing in their political beliefs and their opposition to the pharmeceutical industry. Other left-wing subgroups arise because many of the professions that have been most heavily hit by vaccine mandate (e.g., health, education) are industries with a high proportion of left-wing employees, many of whom are women. In my observation this has led to a fair contingent of people who are/were otherwise left-wing who have joined with opponents of Covid vaccines/mandates and have subsequently been "pulled to the right".

The other main prominent group that make up opposition to Covid vaccines/mandates are medical professionals such as doctors, nurses and epidemiologists who raise medical issues and issues of medical ethics that cause them significant concern. This includes a number of prominent doctors and medical researchers who raise concerns about the efficacy of the vaccines, side-effects from vaccines, or problems in relation to their testing. This group is not consistently right or left-wing in my observation. Because their focus is primarily medical rather than moral, they will tend to focus on issues of medical efficacy and medical ethics, and may be more reluctant to make broader sweeping political or moral assertions, thereby leaving the latter to other voices.

It does not surprise me that there is correlation between this position and political ideology. As a statistician, one of the primary things you observe about human society is that everything is correlated with everything. (That is somewhat of an exaggeration, but less than you would think.) Correlation between political ideology and distinct social/cultural issues is ubiquitous, so it is the lack of correlation that is more unusual.

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  • I admit the question wasn't very precise, and I like how, in human society, everything correlates with everything (but some correlations may be so weak the sample size needed to detect it is larger than the number of people on Earth).
    – gerrit
    Nov 8, 2022 at 7:37
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    I don't think doctors and epidemiologists could be said to be a "main" or "prominent" (or "main prominent") group that makes up opposition to Covid vaccines. Doctors and especially epidemiologists who oppose vaccines make up a very, very tiny fraction of vaccine opponents as well as a very, very tiny fraction of all doctors and epidemiologists. (Nurses I'm not so sure about, but they also don't have nearly the same medical education as doctors or epidemiologists, so their medical opinion is also much less meaningful.)
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 8, 2022 at 13:09
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    @NotThatGuy you are right in absolute numbers. However, once a member of the health professions goes anti-vax they gain a lot of notoriety and exposure. And a lot of kudos from the larger anti-vax population. You see the same phenomenon with climate denials coming from any scientist (even when they aren't climatologists). Ditto with Black conservatives that happen to echo ethnicity-oriented arguments of Caucasian conservatives. The phenomena seems to be: "see! they're members of that group, they should know!". The numbers, or the expertise, is secondary at that point. Nov 9, 2022 at 21:39
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Yes, there is a political divide in the US on Covid. As of September 2021, 86% of Democrats, and only 60% of Republicans, were vaccinated.

Republicans are very big on individual liberty and limiting government control (although the opposition may argue hypocrisy and selective application in this regard). For example:

  • They refuse to give even an inch when it comes to gun control.
  • They tend to oppose improving welfare and providing public healthcare.
  • They want to limit taxation.

Mistrust in "the government" and the scientific community is a rather popular topic among conservatives and in conservative media:

Covid skepticism specifically has also been a popular topic among conservatives:

  • Trump (and others) have extensively downplayed the pandemic, downplayed the importance of wearing a mask (said he's not doing it), downplayed the number positive covid tests, downplayed the risk of severe symptoms, etc.
  • Trump said "the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus" and he called it a "hoax".
  • Primarily-conservatives have been pushing the narratives that the vaccines were rushed (they weren't), that they're unsafe (they aren't) or that there is mass lying about Covid numbers (there isn't).

Covid, and the response to it, is also very different from any other virus or response that basically anyone alive has ever experienced. Not since the Spanish Flu over 100 years ago have we seen a pandemic at this scale. Most of modern society has never experienced lockdowns, nor many people somewhat-suddenly being told they need to vaccinate if they want to keep their jobs (even if other vaccination requirements have existed for some time for some occupations).

There has also been an unfortunate growing movement of anti-vaxxers even prior to Covid.

Given the combination of all of the above, the conservative response to Covid vaccines, and this being different from the response to previous vaccines, is not really surprising.

* Note: what's said about conservatives above should only be taken to mean they're more likely to hold those views than liberals, not that these are majority views amongst Republicans (although in some cases they may be majority views).

I also found this relevant article: Politicization and COVID-19 vaccine resistance in the U.S.

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    "They refuse to give even an inch when it comes to gun control." Aren't we seeing this on all sides? Nov 8, 2022 at 2:42
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    @DonBranson I'd be more inclined to think of the side who insists that convicted criminals should be able to buy assault rifles, and that we must do nothing in response to our children getting gunned down (except maybe throw more guns at the problem), as the side that's unwilling to budge an inch, but maybe opinions vary on that. In any case, gun control was in reference to "individual liberty and limiting government control", which only applies to the Republican side of that.
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 8, 2022 at 2:54
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    @Obie2.0 i.e. New York City mandated that anyone who works in an office must be vaccinated, which is a de facto vaccination mandate. Nov 8, 2022 at 13:04
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    @JonathanReez - New York City is a municipal government.
    – Obie 2.0
    Nov 8, 2022 at 15:55
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    @DonBranson I thought criminals were excluded from (legally) buying firearms in a similar manner to being excluded from voting.
    – Mathemats
    Nov 9, 2022 at 4:43
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As I will keep repeating until people quit doing it, TL;DR because codespeak and tribal litmus tests.

Once anything, anything at all is tied to existing political narratives it is no longer possible to have an object-level discussion about it on its own merits or lack thereof.

"COVID vaccines good/bad?" in the US (and beyond? not as certain how the dynamic plays out in other countries) is codespeak for "Democrat or Republican" and people respond in polls accordingly. I know plenty of Republicans who ranted and raved about vaccines mandates and lockdowns and yet still isolated and got the shots, with no hint of contradiction or hypocrisy (and if you don't understand why, re-read this answer and the linked ones until you do).

The COVID vaccines were an obvious tradeoff: brand new quickly-developed vaccine based on technology that has never been used at scale vs deadly pandemic the likes of which hadn't been seen in over a century combined with the attendant economic woes. And indeed, most people when making the decision for themselves and their families seemed hip to this particular calculus.

And so it's all the more telling that nobody, on either side of the aisle, ever ever framed it that way (at least not when talking about other people): it was all "the government is oppressing us" on one side and "fighting science denialism" on the other, no matter how non-sensical the positions and insults were.

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    This was the chief complaint among MD/MPH friends: it wasn't being discussed on medical or scientific merits, but in the context of (two+) political narratives, both of which were essentially ignoring whatever parts of The Science™ they found inconvenient to their ongoing "<Other Party> Bad" takes. In the end, Team Blue most closely approximated The Science™, but this is still reflected in the recent calls for amnesty and pivot to "I'd rather be kind than correct" - a rephrasing of older arguments like "It doesn't matter if masks work or not; just wear it to show you care/are a Good Person" Nov 8, 2022 at 15:49
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    Fair enough, but how this apply today? The vaccines are not new, they are not untested and their benefits are pretty clear. Some of these statements were valid 2 years ago but are they now? Is it not expected from people to adjust their opinions when receiving new information and facts? Appeals to "rational calculus" are a bit of a red herring when the risk ratio of even early AZ thrombosis to Covid was so sky high - I did the math on my own before getting my shot. Nov 8, 2022 at 19:09
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica that's a good point, I was framing it mostly in terms of the cost benefit ratio at the time. And maybe it's actually germane to my point: nobody updated with the last two years' worth of data because it was never about the data, it was always about the narrative. Nov 9, 2022 at 11:48
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An alternate explanation is the vaccination mandates may have pushed more people to the republican party. So, it's not that people are anti-covid vaccine "because Trump" or "because religious", but rather the political approach to the vaccine rollout has influenced people who disliked the approach to change to a party whose goal is to reduce government intervention.

Here's a Gallup poll showing a big shift among independents from democrat leaning to republican leaning last year around the time the vaccine mandates were happening.

https://news.gallup.com/poll/388781/political-party-preferences-shifted-greatly-during-2021.aspx

I'm not saying this is the sole reason for the correlation, but it may be a non-negligible contributing factor.

Anecdotally, talking with independent minded coworkers, they were not a big fan of the vaccine mandates, and found the authoritarian mindset behind the mandates troubling.

One final thought along these lines. The reasoning I propose could also explain the general republican antipathy towards the vaccine. If the party is traditionally against government intervention, and the vaccine mandates are perceived as excessive government intervention, then this would motivate the party base to be against the vaccine.

So, I would generalize my observation that the opposition to the vaccine has little to do with political party affiliation itself, but that the party affiliation is more indicative of a general mindset opposed to government authoritarianism, and that people of this mindset see the vaccine mandates as part of the authoritarianism that they are against. At the very non granular level of polling about attitude towards the vaccine and party affiliation, this would manifest as a correlation between republicanism and being against the vaccine.

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    I've seen absolutely no indication of a significant change in political affiliation recently, certainly no where near large enough of a shift to explain the significant difference between republic and democratic views on vaccination. Even if you presume every single democrat -> republic conversation was due to disapproval with vaccination and completely ignore republic -> democrat conversations the numbers are still no where near enough to justify the skew in views without existing conservatives having strong lean against vaccines.
    – dsollen
    Nov 8, 2022 at 16:55
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    @dsollen I found this gallup poll with a quick google which says there was an unprecedented swing to the republican side last year among independents. This correlates with when the vaccine mandate was pushed out. news.gallup.com/poll/388781/… I'd say my theory is one among multiple contributing factors, and may be non negligible.
    – yters
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:30
  • While probably not intentional that pole cherry picked a time when republicans were at a historically low approval rating (news.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx) so what your seeing is more a reversion of the mean combined with the usual and expected conversation of people to supporting whatever party is not currently in power. However as I said even by those, cherry picked unusually high numbers, and pretend every one of them was due to vaccines that's an 8% difference vs a 20-30 difference in republican support for vaccines, ie this is not the primary driver.
    – dsollen
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:36
  • 8/30 > 1/4, a 25% possible contribution doesn't seem insignificant to me.
    – yters
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:42
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    Based on the numbers you gave, best case is 40%. Additionally, the line of reasoning I put forward could also explain the republican opposition to the vaccine in general. If the perceived problem with the vaccine is government authoritarianism, and the party generally consists of people against government authoritarianism, then it seems plausible an authoritarian vaccine push would motivate the party base to be against the vaccine.
    – yters
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:50
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To a large extent, anti-Covid vaccination (and opposition to Covid mitigation measures in general) is largely a phenomenon of the right thanks to a single factor: Trump.

Trump was concerned from the beginning about Covid impacting his re-election chances more than anything else. In an interview on Fresh Air, David Rothkopf said,

Even though he had been briefed in January of 2020 that there was this potential epidemic and that it could have very serious effects, he wanted to downplay it. And so he resisted all efforts to get data on it. And, you know, in early March of 2020, he went to the Center for Disease Control. And you may recall at the time, there was a ship off the coast of California where some people had come down with COVID. And he didn't want to let it dock because he said, why should I have these bad statistics put on my record when I had nothing to do with them getting this disease? And his desire, at that moment, to suppress knowledge about the disease and to minimize the potential impact of the disease led to people not preparing for it.

Thanks to Trump’s insistence on downplaying the epidemic, not to mention his promotion of quack “treatments” like Ivermectin, and the amplification of conspiracy theories around Covid by the right-wing media network (which runs into some terrifying things when you look past Fox News which is scary enough on its own). The end result of this is that the vaccination program, which should have been a triumph for the Trump administration (the record pace at which the vaccines were created, tested and deployed is truly unprecedented and is a miracle of science) instead was downplayed and demonized on the right. Even Trump’s muted efforts to get people to get vaccinated after it became clear that the end result has been illness and death for many of his strongest supporters were unable to overcome the narrative that was created through his handling of Covid while in office.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Nov 8, 2022 at 18:26
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It's important to distinguish antivaxers (who oppose all vaccines) and covid vaccine skeptics, who have no problems with the usual vaccines but specifically oppose or mistrust the covid vaccines.

There is overlap: an antivaxer who opposes all vaccines will also oppose covid vaccines, of course. But there aren't that many true antivaxers, and they tend to be ... for lack of another expression, not entirely respectable, so antivaxers tend to make a nice strawman. So let's ignore them and focus on "covid vaccine skeptics" instead.

The political correlation escaped no-one, and @NotThatGuy provides the statistics:

86% of Democrats, and only 60% of Republicans, were vaccinated.

In my opinion, the explanation is to be found among the differences in psychological profile between left and right people. I'd recommend reading "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt for an introduction. I'm not using "liberal/conservative" because these are too American, and these psychological differences are universal.

I will use an example as illustration: consider communism. It results in ruin, famine, genocide, civil war, etc, as happened in all countries where it was implemented. This is fact and is not open to debate. Reasons why are well known (Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek) and the case is closed.

One important psychological difference between left and right is that left people are more rationalist and focused on theory. I mean rationalist in the philosophical sense: the belief that reason alone can produce truth. This can lead them to ignore observable results that contradict theory. So, someone on the left will read communist books, absorb the theory, and be completely persuaded that applying the teachings of Marx (for example) will lead to liberation of the proletariat, prosperity, etc. When the actual theory is applied, with well-known results (ie, Hell on Earth) they will experience intense cognitive dissonance, then rationalize it into "it wasn't real communism". It really is a timeless classic. When actual results don't match theoretical predictions, they tend to conclude theory is right and actual results are a mistake.

Right people are more empiricist and focused on observation. They're much simpler. They simply observe that when communism is applied, it ends up like it did with Pol Pot. An important difference is they don't need to understand why it doesn't work to understand it doesn't work. A liberal would need theory explaining why it doesn't work to actually realize it doesn't work. But a conservative doesn't.

This is an important reason why they can't talk to each other and instead it ends up in a shouting match, or worse. I absolutely recommend reading Haidt's book, because it helps reduce the amount of misunderstandings and shouting matches.

Anyway, let's apply these psychological differences to the covid vaccines.

A left-wing person operates under the theory that covid is deadly, and there exists a safe and effective vaccine that protects against it, because that is the official narrative. In addition, they are very sensitive to the care/harm moral foundation, so they put a big emphasis on protecting others. So they take the vaccine. When they get covid anyway, they still run on the same theory and rationalize it (same process as above) into something more palatable like "it would have been worse without the vax" or something similar. (Which is actually true. Statistics say mortality rate and hospitalization rate of people vaccinated against COVID-19 are clearly lower than those of unvaccinated people.)

A right-wing person simply observes that they know lots of people who got covid and weren't that sick from it (although over a million US citizens died due to the COVID-pandemic). They also observe that all their jabbed liberal acquaintances got it at least three times after being injected, which is kinda hilarious. So the right-wing person just ignores the theory and simply concludes that whatever's in the syringe, it doesn't seem to make their liberal buddies immune, so it's not a vaccine. Again, the right-wing person doesn't really care about theoretical details, so they make a simple low-N heuristic deduction: it doesn't seem to work, who cares why, so I don't want it.

Note this answer covers mostly the late stage of the pandemic, when virus mutations appeared which partly escaped the protection of early vaccines, leading some people to believe that what was sold as "vaccines" didn't hold up to the promises that were made. For the early stages, I believe this is simply right-wing people reacting as they usually do when told what to do by an authority they don't respect. This attitude is called "reactance" and is also correlated to political orientation.

I believe this misunderstanding will have detrimental long lasting effects. The recent calls for amnesty from the left side show that some are beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem, but it will take a while to process. In any case, side effects whether physiological, financial or psychological cannot be undone, so the result is likely to get very ugly in the coming years.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Nov 9, 2022 at 14:40
  • The thing with removing all comments is that it may not be apparent why this answer gets so many downvotes, after it was heavily edited. The reason I downvoted myself was because of this little gem: "after everyone became aware that what was sold as "vaccines" didn't actually work " in the initial version. Under the guise of correcting misinformation, we sanitize this answer to be more reasonable looking than it actually is. Nov 10, 2022 at 19:32
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica It's settled science now, no discussion. Anyway the vote stats and reactions to this answer were quite entertaining. I considered improving it, but why bother.
    – bobflux
    Nov 11, 2022 at 21:07
  • OK, I did edit it to fix Philip's edit, who doesn't understand what a vaccine is
    – bobflux
    Nov 11, 2022 at 21:11
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Bobflux's controversial answer claims that there is a correlation and it is explained by "differences in psychological profile." I think he's correct up to this point, but incorrect about what the differences are.

The idea that the left tend to follow theory and ignore observed results and the right do the opposite doesn't hold up very well for bobflux's example of communism: while certainly many on the left supported leaders (such as Stalin) and states (such as the U.S.S.R.) that were producing observably bad results, there was also a strong movement on the left against these. During the 1940s, for example, George Orwell, while clearly a leftist, was loud and serious critic of the U.S.S.R. and similar states, both in political articles and in popular works such as Animal Farm. Objections to authoritarian communism and socialism go right back to the very beginnings of the idea; anarchism has long been associated with socialism and some communist ideas and yet was strongly opposed to authoritarianism.

Bob Altemeyer, a (now retired) Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, has been studying authoritarian personalities for decades; his work is summarised for the lay audience in his book The Authoritarians (which can be downloaded for free from that link). His concept of the right-wing authoritarian follower (RWA) (which also covers left-wing authoritarian followers¹) explains both the communism example above and the COVID-19 question here.

Essentially, the degree of someone's mask/vaccine/etc. coercion/acceptance/resistance attitude will depend on the level of their authoritarian follower tendencies and which authority they follow. Low-authoritarian personalities will tend towards acceptance, since that's where the science is. High-authoritarian personalities on the right will tend towards strong resistance (or coercion in the other direction, such as legislating against masks) since that's where their leaders are going, and on the left towards coercion² for similar reasons. The right has a higher proportion of authoritarian follower personalities, so we'll see more noise from that side than from the left. The authoritarian leaders and followers on both sides are not coming at this from different epistemic viewpoints; sources of evidence are used as justification for their pre-existing views, regardless of what kind of source it is (theoretical or "observed," in bobflux's answer).

For something like vaccines, the correlation in political views comes mainly from the need of the authoritarian follower to have strong in-group agreement combined with the view not being generally accepted by the out-group as well. So something like forcing anybody who wants to drive a car to hold a license and buy insurance doesn't produce a strong political backlash from RWAs, but doing the same for someone who wants to own a gun does, despite both being about equally coercive.


¹ Altemeyer has described RWAs as those who submit to an established authority and LWAs as those who submit to an authority that wants to overthrow the establishment. Thus, the Nazis were LWAs before they took over Germany in the 1930s, and RWAs after.

² This coercion from the left might not be so easy to see when it comes to mandates for vaccines which strongly follow the science, but becomes more clear when you look at something like extended school closures for young children where the science points out some pretty severe harm that tends to be downplayed (at best) by a not insignificant segment of the left.

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  • Do authoritarian leftists also resist masks and vaccines?
    – user253751
    Nov 15, 2022 at 9:45
  • @user253751 That depends entirely on the particular group and its leaders. For authoritarian followers, the important thing is to have strong in-group agreement (even to the point of attacking those that disagree) for the issues they wish to identify themselves with. Because it's the group dynamics that are important here, and not so much the issues themselves, the issues can be pretty arbitrary (though an opposing position from that taken up by those who they consider to be "the enemy" is generally attractive).
    – cjs
    Nov 19, 2022 at 9:28
  • So a particular group of leftist authoritarians might: 1) be strongly in favour of masks and/or vaccines, 2) strongly opposed to them, or 3) just not care all that much either way. You might be more likely to see (1) in the U.S. if the LWAs consider the RWAs to be the enemy, since (1) would be an opposing view. RWAs take the (3) approach to automobile insurance and drivers' licenses, as I mentioned in my answer.
    – cjs
    Nov 19, 2022 at 9:31
-1

Opposition to vaccines is a conspiracy-oriented position: it implies that some group of people has collectively and surreptitiously engaged in malfeasance. Opposition to Covid-19 vaccines is explicitly offered as a governmental conspiracy against private citizens.

Government conspiracies have been a mainstay of far-Right politics since the beginning of the Obama era — a tool meant to motivate their base through excitement and anger — and so most such conspiracy theories are associated with Rightist political beliefs. There are a few Left-wing government conspiracies, of course, but they are mostly holdovers from Bush era issues and don't hold a lot of sway in the current Democratic worldview.

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  • 3
    The enormous profits made by Big Pharma and passed on to its stockholders on products that were approved (in both the Trump and Biden administrations) with minimal testing or oversight aren't surreptitious or covert at all. More to the point, you have an extremely receptive audience but if you're going to go such a hostile and partisan route you should at least provide better sourcing for your positions instead of assuming that they're self-evident. The guys above at least found something on NPR to back them up.
    – lly
    Nov 8, 2022 at 5:31
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    +1 because I agree that the folks claiming "vaccines are dangerous!" are effectively saying they believe in conspiracy theories. But the Left was promoting it's own conspiracy theories about the vaccine until Biden was elected, so it's a problem on both ends. Nov 8, 2022 at 13:32
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    @lly: The enormous profits made by Big Pharma are not a conspiracy: that's just capitalism in one of its less savory forms. The need for the vaccine has never been in question except by those who think the disease itself is a fabrication born of a governmental conspiracy. If you're trying to tell me that capitalism can suck, I agree with you. If you're with those who think the Libs ginned up the pandemic for political and economic profit, I'm not with you. Nov 8, 2022 at 19:14
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    @JonathanReez: The anti-vaxxers from the pre-Covid era were basically apolitical selfish free-riders: They deluded themselves into thinking vaccines were dangerous, and wanted other people's kids to shoulder that supposed danger so their own kids wouldn't have to. The anti-Covid-vax people were expressly political: just blindly and reactively opposed to anything they viewed lefty-liberal. There were a lot of lefties in the first group, but almost none in the second. Nov 8, 2022 at 19:18
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    As much as they might've been more right and the antivax team largely moronic reactionaries, it seems pretty clear there was at least some level of conspiracy: However benignly you consider it, we have the emails now of Fauci working with others to mislead the public on various points and gov't officials were pressuring Twitter about prominent skeptical journalists directly at the behest of guys on Pfizer's board. Similarly, you're quite clearly hostile and partisan; lumping my valid points in with the Trumpist nonsense is part and parcel of what you're denying you're doing.
    – lly
    Nov 12, 2022 at 9:06

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