The ability to at least contain the coronavirus in America to the point that it is manageable as soon as possible will come down in large part to Americans’ willingness to get vaccinated. The good news is that more and more Americans say they are willing to do so.
Unfortunately, a partisan split on receiving a Covid-19 vaccine has reemerged and widened over the last few months. This partisan gap could impact our capacity to keep the virus at bay given our deepening polarization, and needs to be continually addressed.
Take a look at polling from Axios/Ipsos and Gallup on coronavirus issues. They have polled frequently on the topic in recent months.
In an average of Axios/Ipsos polls taken in January and February, 74% of Democrats said they’d either been vaccinated, or were extremely or very likely to get vaccinated as soon it’s available to them. Just 51% of Republicans said the same thing. Independents were in the middle of these two groups at 61%.
When Gallup asked respondents whether they would agree to get vaccinated if the vaccine were available to them right now, the partisan gap stood at 40 points (91% for Democrats and 51% for Republicans) in their most recent poll.
We can’t be sure why exactly Republicans are now significantly less willing to get the vaccine, but remember Democrats have pretty much always said they were more concerned about Covid-19 than Republicans.
Indeed, Republicans have had relatively small shifts in their opinion on getting the vaccine in Gallup polling. Democrats, on the other hand, have seen wild shifts. Back in late September, 53% for Democrats and 49% for Republicans told Gallup they would agree to be vaccinated. In the Gallup polls taken during July, an average of 82% of Democrats and 47% of Republicans agreed to be vaccinated.
In the late summer and early fall, some Democratic leaders raised questions about the vaccine authorization/approval process under the Trump administration. Now-Vice President Kamala Harris was quoted in early September as saying, for instance, “I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump, and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about.”
It wasn’t until mid-November, just after Trump’s defeat in the presidential election, when the partisan gap began to really emerge in the Axios/Ipsos polling on vaccines. It was also around the election when the partisan gap significantly rewidened in the Gallup polling. Of course, Democrats knew that the Trump administration wouldn’t be heading the vaccination process once he left office.
Whatever the cause of the partisan differences, vaccine hesitancy among Republicans could be quite dangerous.
The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is usually transmitted through close contact with an infected person, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On the micro-level, Americans’ friendships (i.e. who we might most frequently be in close contact with) are highly dependent on politics. A 2020 Pew Research Center poll found that 59% of Trump supporters said a lot of their close friends voted for Trump, and 30% said some of their close friends did. Just 10% of Trump backers said few (8%) or none (2%) of their close friends did.
It’s fairly easy to see how this could lead to outbreaks where the virus can thrive. After all, we all saw how the Trump White House experienced a coronavirus outbreak during the early fall. It was during this period that Trump contracted it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the White House held a “superspreader event” when Trump introduced now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court.
On the macro-level, geography is becoming a stronger predictor of voting behavior, with urban areas voting more Democratic and rural areas voting more Republican.
This fits with Kaiser Family Foundation polling consistently finding that respondents in rural areas are more likely to say they won’t get the vaccine – or only will if it is required. They noted that vaccine hesitancy in rural areas “is more than just partisanship,” though it certainly is connected.
We’ve seen how not taking adequate measures against the coronavirus can be dangerous in rural areas. People in rural areas have been less likely to wear masks and more likely to express skepticism over the seriousness of coronavirus. In late 2020, Covid-19 cases were growing at a significantly higher rate in rural areas. That’s after being initially concentrated in urban areas in early 2020.
The bottom line is that there’s still a lot of work to be done on vaccine hesitancy. Lives literally depend on it.