15

The article Debate over vaccine requirements forges strange alliance states that opposition to vaccination (or government-mandated vaccination) doesn't seem to be a Democrat versus Republican, or liberal versus conservatives. The only hypothesis formed in the article was that being either extreme left wing, or extreme right wing, made you more likely to oppose vaccination:

"This is another of those far left-far right issues," she said.

Is opposition to vaccination correlated with other political beliefs? Is there a political spectrum that can predict whether you're likely to support or oppose vaccination?

If it varies from country to country, I'm mainly interested in the USA, Australia and other countries that are reasonably similar.

5
  • 4
    Since this question was originally asked, there have been some significant changes in the political and public health landscape that have altered things quite a bit. In particular, with the Covid vaccines, there seems to be a very strong correlation between support for Trump and opposition to vaccination with Fox News personalities haven taken up the cause of opposing the Covid vaccination. Whether this will generalize and/or move previously non-Republican anti-vax people into the Republican camp remains to be seen.
    – Don Hosek
    Commented Sep 20, 2021 at 19:49
  • 1
    @DanHosek That’s not a complete representation of the situation. Joy Ann Reid and Kamala Harris were anti-vaxxer last year.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 3:29
  • 1
    1. Try to get people's names right, 2. Anecdotes are not data. Chris Christie is strongly pro-vax too, but individual data points don't say much about the population. As for the population, there's kff.org/policy-watch/… As for Fox, nytimes.com/2021/07/11/business/media/… As for your claims: politifact.com/factchecks/2021/jul/23/tiktok-posts/… I have no idea who Joy Ann Reid is, nor do I care.
    – Don Hosek
    Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 4:04
  • 2
    Is a bounty the right solution here? It seems like a lock and a new question would be better. Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 17:20
  • @DonHosek Sorry for getting your name wrong.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Sep 24, 2021 at 2:05

6 Answers 6

13

TL;DR: Vaccination opinion is not significantly correlated to political leanings, but there's not enough data on possible relationships to specific other issues.


There's not a lot of recent pollster data on this question, but what there is suggests that the anti-vaccine group is spread across the entire political spectrum, with only a small correlation to other beliefs. While there was a recent poll which asked about political affiliation and other demographics in relation to vaccine attitudes, it didn't break down specific beliefs more than the usual Republican/Democrat split. It turns out that age had the most effect on the results. (See the link for details)

Pew Research results

As usual with poll data, FiveThirtyEight has a good analysis based on all the most recent data that's available. The infographic I've included below is derived from a series of studies where scientists and non-scientists were asked about various politically-sensitive science questions and breaks down the responses by political alignment.

enter image description here

You can see from this image that political opinion has very little to do with opinion on vaccinations, although it doesn't explicitly relate the opinions in each category to each other. In other words, it still doesn't show whether or not there is a group of people which hold a set of beliefs {X, Y, Z} instead of {A, B, Z}

8
  • 4
    Bottom line, no one seems to agree with scientists.
    – user1530
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 22:18
  • 1
    @DA. - Yep. Probably for reasons which come from the same depths of the psyche where the Dunning-Kruger effect lives.
    – Bobson
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 23:03
  • 1
    I'm sorry to necropost but reading through this data I see a severe flaw with this data answering the question. It asks "Is opposition to vaccination correlated with other political beliefs?" and this data only records if people support mandatory vaccination programs. This doesn't split "Parents should decide (to vaccinate their children)" and "Parents should decide (not to vaccinate their children)". There is a difference in the ideology of being pro vaccination and pro individual choice.
    – Vality
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 23:43
  • @Vality I'm not sure I follow what you're trying to point out. For all practical purposes, the opposite of mandatory vaccination is to leave it up to the parents. I've never seen anyone propose outright banning them.
    – Bobson
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 23:31
  • 2
    What I was trying to say is this conflates the motivation with the result. People who dislike vaccines for medical reasons don't want them to be forced because they feel the vaccines are a bad thing and shouldn't be given to people. On the other hand libertarians or anarchists may believe vaccines are a good thing but the government shouldn't force people to do anything (or that there should be no government at all), even if they believe vaccines are excellent and feel everyone should have them. I suspect these are separate groups but have the same result when answering the given question.
    – Vality
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 23:53
3

Tl;dr counties that voted for Biden have higher vaccination rates than counties that voted for Trump

According to this kff.org article the vaccination rate in counties that voted for Biden was 12.9% higher than the vaccination rate in counties that voted for Trump on average on September 13th. The article also has graphs showing the difference between vaccination in counties that voted for Trump and counties that voted for Biden.

Note that this isn’t directly equivalent to which group has higher vaccination rates, but it is a good proxy, and likely the best proxy you can get because it is impossible to know how people voted.

Fact check:

This site gave them a factuality rating of high, and a bias rating of least biased. (This bias/fact check site has worked well for me in the past, but it might not be correct)

3

Is opposition to vaccination correlated with other political beliefs?

In a 2018 study in the US, The influence of political ideology and trust on willingness to vaccinate., it was concluded:

Our findings corroborate analyses that show that the intent to vaccinate differs among conservatives and liberals with conservatives expressing less intent to vaccinate. Similarly, those with lower levels of trust in government medical experts are also less likely to express intent to vaccinate, and these individuals also tend to be conservative.

2
  • 2018 is before Covid vaccination became a thing, which is why the question has been bumped, so it seem likely this study is out of date.
    – Jontia
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 7:53
  • 2
    @Jontia - The referenced study answers the original question; not the one for the bounty. There is a different type of study (2021) based on 2020 data, but I feel it adds nothing to the above. There is an article discussing a recent study about hesitation for Covid vaccinations for Europe and Australia, but I have not yet located the study. If I find more, I will add it; but for now this will have to do.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 11:34
2
+50

If we get right down to it, the anti-vaccination position is a version of the Free Rider Problem. Specifically, anti-vaccination logic says: "I can reap the benefits of a vaccination program if other people get vaccinated, without paying any of the dues or potential costs of being vaccinated myself." The costs involved are usually trivial, presupposed, or imaginary; skirting high-value dues feels more like theft, and free-riders rarely think of themselves as thieves. As such, free-riding is mainly an entitlement issue. Free-riders want to 'get away with' something that other people don't: that special feeling of indulging in special treatment in a way that (mistakenly) seems harmless.

Generally speaking, neither political party has a monopoly on people with a sense of entitlement, so there's no 'natural' partisan trend to the anti-vax movement.

That being said, the modern GOP and far-Right conservative groups have made a cottage industry out of conspiracy theory as a tool for partisan engagement. Making people crazy-angry is what they do, and how they motivate big blocks of their constituencies to action. As such, the far-Right has latched onto covid-19 vaccines as a somewhat febrile talking point, pulling it out of the normal self-entitled 'free-rider' model into a collective anti-government, pro-liberty narrative. Because of that, the anti-vax movement really consists of two separate groups:

  • the original (free-rider, non-partisan) anti-vax movement that opposes things like measles-mumps-rubella shots for their own children, out of a sense of entitlement
  • the current (anti-government, heavily conservative) anti-vax movement that focuses almost entirely on opposing covid vaccines for everyone, as a partisan political ploy

It doesn't pay to confuse the two groups, which have little in common except the mere fact that they differentially oppose vaccination.

4
  • 2
    It does? It seems more common for anti-vaxxers to deny the severity of a disease or make up side effects. Even pre-COVID, for e.g. measles the discussion around anti-vaxxers no longer believe measles to be a threat, they weren't saying "Wow, measles is really tough, by my Timmy has such a healthy immune system he'll be fine." E.g. as discussed on WP. In other words, I think ascribing to them a motivation to reaping the benefits is missing the mark because they don't believe in the benefits. Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 20:38
  • 1
    @AzorAhai-him-: Be careful not to confuse ex post facto justifications with core reasoning. The original anti-vaxxers wanted to avoid the MMR vaccine because of a (specious) association with autism and other childhood syndromes. There was no sense in risking their own children becoming autistic, mainly because most other children took the risk and got vaccinated, making the chances of getting M, M, or R quite low. Only when someone's child does get sick do they pull out the "it's not such a bad disease anyway" line. Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 20:53
  • 1
    I can't find anything that says that the original anti-vaxxers were scared of measles, mumps, or rubella and decided the risk of those diseases was worse than the chance of becoming autistic. Everything just seems like complete ignorance of everything involved. Commented Sep 21, 2021 at 23:57
  • @AzorAhai-him-: No one sees to talk about being scared of MMR; all three diseases had reasonable childhood mortality rates prior to vaccinations. The only reason people now can claim that they are not serious diseases is that the prevalence of vaccinations in this country makes infection fairly rare. It's ignorance, yes, but it isn't ignorance on a level with the covid crap; it's more self-serving than that. Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 1:34
-1

The answer (and implications) depends on who you ask. There are those who reach for the limited available statistics, like @Bobson's fine answer above. I've got no objection to the approach, but the limitations are in the pollster's intent.

On the other hand, while I'm fully vaccinated, I've discussed the matter with friends who have chosen not to accept the vaccination(s) and had some success in influencing them to get vaccinated. Based on (admittedly anecdotal evidence) I think the answer is yes, there is correlation.

Specifically, it seems that opposition to vaccination can be correlated with distrust of government. I would even go so far as to say that distrust of government causes opposition to vaccination. This applies specifically to the COVID-19 vaccines. I've got no statistics to back that up at this time, but I'll dig into it a bit.

The Biden administration has taken a very different approach through the White House press secretary. When asked about the president's poll numbers and COVID, she seemed to blame those who don't accept the vaccine for the President's dropping rating. While this seems to be similar to my conclusion on correlation, the causality implied is reversed from what my experience indicates.

I suggest that both distrust in vaccines and low government job approval are rather obviously correlated and caused by the level of distrust in government. In addition, distrust of big pharma is another major factor, so information from the government regulatory agencies (who work closely with big pharma) is a primary factor in the crisis of confidence.

There are lots of good polls with data showing a correlation between trust in government and other political beliefs. Perhaps it's obvious, but there is a general trend for those aligned with the party of the current president to trust the government more than those aligned with the opposition party. I recommend the Pew Research Center's Key findings about Americans’ declining trust in government and each other and more specifically Public Trust in Government: 1958-2021

The other factor to consider is that there's a substantial distinction between people who are opposed to vaccination, and those who are skeptical of the government's approach to managing COVID-19. Take for example this discussion between prominent doctors & scientists, all of whom believe in (and have been) vaccinated, but who raise serious questions about the government's strategy of focusing on vaccination.

0
-5

The claimed extremist reasoning against vaccinations - I am so 'liberal' or I am so 'conservative'- both likely rest on the political notion, 'state regulation is against freedom'. This perspective is well articulated by Wendy Brown (1995, ch. 1). Brown stipulates that 1970s and 1980s conservatism reshaped the language of freedom to mean individualist, imperialist, and entrepreneurial (10). American liberal intellectuals failed to counter these attacks and fell in line behind an economic formulation of equality. Consequently, the liberal project moved away from a government run by its people to personal rights and liberties (i.e. a fear of government instead of the goal of an ideal democracy) (8-11). Following the same narrow conception of freedom - personal liberty - both liberals and conservatives have begun to similarly view state regulation, such as vaccine requirements, as inappropriate and against freedom. In other words, the singular view of freedom - protection against the government and not a government run by the people - is the political denominator along which extremist American liberalism and conservatism are indistinguishable and vaccines have become an increasingly salient in these terms. Both 'sides' believe that required vaccines are the work of an oppressive state and we must work to protect ourselves from this state.

3
  • 1
    If you provide a negative rating, it is helpful to discuss why. Thanks
    – alfonso
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 18:25
  • 8
    I wasn't that downvoter, but this really doesn't answer the question at all. It might be a useful piece of a larger answer, but given you don't even use the words vaccine or vaccination in your answer, it makes any connection to the question very unclear. What are you trying to convey? That pro-liberty attitudes are correlated to anti-vaccine ones?
    – Bobson
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 20:22
  • I'm trying to convey that pro-liberty attitudes for many people on both the left and right have become the same. They have a fear of government and desire protection from it, which translates into anti-regulation, like required vaccines.
    – alfonso
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 18:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .