Trump Is Turning Republicans Into Anti-Vaxxers

July 5, 2016

Republicans are more skeptical of vaccine science than we may have previously realized—and Donald Trump may bear some of the blame.

A new study, conducted for The Daily Beast by a researcher at Washington State University, found a relationship between Republican party affiliation and anti-vaccine sentiment. Survey participants who didn’t plan to vaccinate themselves or their families most often named Donald Trump as a public figure they thought shared their views.

Anti-vaccine sentiment was also disturbingly high among Democrats who participated in the study, though not as prevalent as among Republicans.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has expressed significant skepticism about vaccine science over the years, even going so far as to suggest vaccines cause autism. As a result, he’s become a hero to many in the anti-vaxx movement—the rare public figure willing to champion their dangerous and incorrect beliefs.

The new data runs counter to the prevailing public view on the relationship between political affiliation and vaccine skepticism—that there is little to no relationship—and suggests that Trump’s ascent in the Republican Party is related to doubts about vaccines among its members.

Researchers ran an internet survey of 400 people in the United States on June 29 using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. It’s a tool academics commonly use to survey large numbers of people, including those researching political psychology, consumer behavior, and social psychology. Participants answered one series of questions on their intentions to vaccinate themselves and their families, and another on their political views. Half the participants got the vaccine questions first, and the other half got the political questions first. After answering those questions, participants were asked to name public figures who they thought shared their views on vaccines.

SUNY-Albany marketing professor Ioannis Kareklas and Washington State University Ph.D. candidate T.J. Weber analyzed the data. They found that 25 percent of respondents affiliated with the Republican Party said it was more likely they would not vaccinate themselves and their families than that they would. Meanwhile, 15 percent of respondents who identified with the Democratic Party gave the same answer.

And Trump’s supporters were substantially more likely to have a negative view of vaccines than Hillary Clinton’s. Of the respondents who said they would vote Trump, 23 percent said they were unlikely to get vaccinated. Of the pro-Clinton respondents, 13.5 percent felt the same way.

Overall, researchers found that having a low intention to vaccinate correlated most strongly with affiliation with the GOP.

The follow-up questions also provided interesting answers. The respondents who said gave positive answers about vaccines most often listed Barack and Michelle Obama as the public figures who agreed with them.

Pro-vaccine respondents also said Bill and Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz shared their views.

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