In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread. And among those diseases could be COVID-19.
Unfortunately, Republican politicians are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers. Recent examples include a member of the House COVID subcommittee and a crackpot who is seeking the party's US Senate nomination in Ohio.
Vaccine safety skeptics are often thought to be more likely to self-identify as Democrats (vs. Independents or Republicans). Recent studies, however, suggest that childhood vaccine misinformation is either more common among Republicans, or is uninfluenced by partisan identification (PID). Uncertainty about the partisan underpinnings of vaccine misinformation acceptance is important, as it could complicate efforts to pursue pro-vaccine health policies. I theorize that Republicans should be more likely to endorse anti-vaccine misinformation, as they tend to express more-negative views toward scientific experts. Across six demographically and nationally representative surveys, I find that—while few Americans think that “anti-vaxxers” are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats—Republican PID is significantly associated with the belief that childhood vaccines can cause autism. Consistent with theoretical expectations, effect is strongly mediated by anti-expert attitudes—an effect which supplemental panel analyses suggest is unlikely to be reverse causal.
From the article:
These findings have important implications for efforts to communicate vaccine safety, as well as for pro-vaccine public health policies. Concerning the former, the meta-analytic findings underscore the importance of targeting Republicans with pro-vaccine communications—that is, identifying the “correct” audience—and suggest potential pathways for crafting effective messages capable of doing so—for example, by enlisting prominent GOP figures to endorse pro-vaccine messages. Relatedly, the mediation analyses results further caution that, while most Americans defer to medical experts as a source of expertise about vaccine-related issues (Villa, 2019), messages designed for Republicans may be more effective when delivered by non-expert sources. Additionally, while this study investigates the anti-vaccination attitudes in the US, cross-national research has documented a relationship between right-leaning political ideology (which is strongly related, both conceptually and empirically, and Republican self-identification in the US) and anti-vaccination attitudes (see: Hornsey et al., 2018). Results from this work can help facilitate research on anti-vaccine attitudes outside the US; particularly in countries where right-wing political ideology, the parties that espouse those views, and feelings toward scientific experts have become (or are becoming) increasingly entangled.