The Politics of Vaccination Hesitancy


Political ideology may be influencing your decision regarding vaccination. That’s the conclusion one easily makes when reviewing surveys regarding vaccination opinions.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to get the Covid-19 vaccine. When I first heard this, I was surprised since the vaccines were developed under the Republican administration of President Trump. But repeated surveys have confirmed this finding and it remains true today.

William A. Galston, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, tells us more than 80% of Democrats have already received at least one shot, compared with 49% of Republicans. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans say that they won’t get vaccinated under any circumstances, and an additional 9% will do so only if required. That means a solid 36% of Republicans are opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines.

The election results of 2020 would seem to predict vaccination rates across the nation. President Biden carried all 20 states with the highest vaccination rates while Trump carried 17 of the 20 states with the lowest rates of vaccination.

How do you explain these findings?

You might think the opposite of these findings would be true. In addition to the fact the vaccines were developed under a Republican administration, it’s also true that Republicans tend to be older than Democrats. While older Americans are getting vaccinated, the rate of Republicans overall is about the same as 18-to 29-year-olds. Democrats, on the other hand, are receiving shots at the rate of Americans 65 years and older.

Some other demographics are also puzzling. Eighty-one percent of Republicans are white, compared with 59% of Democrats. White Americans are getting vaccinated at higher rates than blacks and Hispanics, who comprise 32% of Democrats but only 9% of Republicans. All things being considered, you would expect Republicans should be getting vaccinated at rates much higher than Democrats. But the opposite is true.

Galston blames these findings on other demographic differences. He says white evangelical Protestants make up one-third of the Republican Party, compared with only 6% of Democrats. He says these white evangelicals get vaccinated at a rate well below the national average. He also says those with college degrees get vaccinated more than those without degrees. Only 30% of Democrats supposedly don’t have college degrees while 57% of Republicans didn’t graduate from college. If these statistics are true, there has been a radical makeover of the Republican and Democratic parties in my lifetime.

Galston gives three hypotheses to explain the differences in Republican v. Democratic vaccination rates:

  • Many Republicans are libertarians – those who oppose government control in any form. To these people, anything the government advocates makes them suspicious. In a survey that asked whether vaccination is a “personal choice” or “part of everyone’s responsibility to protect the health of others,” 71% of Republicans saw it as a personal choice compared with 27% of Democrats.
  • Republicans are populists – who bristle at what they see as elite condescension toward ordinary citizens. Despite the reassurances of medical experts that the vaccines are safe, many Republicans wonder how they can be sure since the vaccines were developed faster than usual.
  • White evangelical Protestants distrust science – Galston says for more than a century, these people have had a tense relationship with modern science, which they see as challenging core tenants of their faith. They are less likely than other Americans to take “follow the science” as their benchmark.


What do you believe?

Is Galston correct or way off base? It is certainly true that libertarians tend to favor the Republican Party and also tend to oppose government intrusion into their lives. Perhaps some oppose anything the government favors. But would they put their own health at risk over these differences? Maybe. Many Republicans also detest elite condescension – who wouldn’t? But when your personal health is at stake, it’s a very personal matter. As to the “tense” relationship of white protestants to science, this is perhaps the least credible explanation of all. This sounds like elite condescension to explain differences of opinion on creation v. evolution.

Fortunately, we all still have the choice to be vaccinated or not. I would hope that a careful review of the science, and the risks v. benefits of the vaccines, would be the driving influence on whether or not people get vaccinated – not political ideology. We still live in a free country and the choice is everyone’s to make.

Let me know what you believe – and your reasons for accepting or rejecting the vaccines.


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