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.
Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.
Unfortunately, Republican politicians and conservative media figures are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers. Trump bears much of the blame. There is a great deal of overlap between MAGA World and the antivax movement.
In a 2021 paper published in American Political Science Review, political scientists David C. Barker, Ryan Detamble and Morgan Marietta looked at Republicans’ growing distrust of scientists and other experts. Their research shows that partly due to the education divide — i.e., college graduates prefer the Democratic Party, and white people without a college degree prefer the Republican Party — the divide between those who are pro-intellectualism and those who are anti-intellectualism is more entrenched in party politics.Importantly, Barker and his colleagues defined anti-intellectualism not as a respondent's ability or personal level of education. Instead, it was about respondents having positive feelings about trusting one’s gut and having negative feelings toward experts, schools and “the book-smarts of intellectuals.” In their paper, the researchers wrote that those who distrust scientists and other official sources of authority “distinguish those who are ‘book smart’ from those who have common sense, the latter of which they view as a superior means of ascertaining truth.”They found that people with this attitude were more likely to align with the Republican Party. Which makes sense. Trump has promoted the vaccine-autism myth and falsely claimed that climate change is a hoax. Trump’s anti-intellectualism surely attracted voters who already shared these beliefs, but he also might have influenced other people to take up such beliefs. According to one study, he was the primary spreader of COVID-19 misinformation.
These partisan trends existed before Trump’s presidency, of course, but Barker and his colleagues wrote that they spiked during his tenure. And instead of receding once Trump left the national stage, the partisan realignment seems to be firmer than ever.
The University of Miami's Joseph Uscinski studies conspiracy theories. He argues the partisan divide over COVID vaccines is also because of the type of Republican that was drawn to Donald Trump.
President Trump built a coalition of conspiracy-minded people, and he was doing that with conspiratorial rhetoric. But he even engaged in misinformation about vaccines, claiming on Twitter at one point, long before he ran for president, that vaccines caused autism.
Bill O'Reilly, Former Host, "The O'Reilly Factor": Both the president and I are vaxxed.
And did you get the booster?
Donald Trump, Former President of the United States: Yes.
I got it too. OK, so…
Don't. Don't. Don't. Don't. Don't.
And when he makes efforts now to say that he got the shot and people should get it, he gets booed by his own crowd, because these are the people that he sought to bring around him. So, their mind just isn't going to change at this point just because he says to go get it.