Folks, in a stunning study that no one asked for (and which surprised no one), unvaccinated Republicans are more likely to consider getting a COVID vaccine if Trump endorses it. However, when Republicans — regardless of vax status — watch President Biden endorse the COVID vaccine, they start leaning towards more anti-vaccine sentiments.
Yep! Same info, same shot — same everything — except the messenger.
If you, dear reader, are like me, in no way shocked but very much dismayed, and would like to know more about this truly disheartening study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, then read on for more depressing details.
Why did they have to run a study on this?
Welp, in short: the pandemic is really fucking with public health and the researchers wanted to see if they could get more people on board — especially Republicans — with getting the COVID vaccine.
Because COVID vaccines were developed and came to market so rapidly, many Americans were extremely hesitant to get vaccinated — especially certain minority groups and Republicans. The designers of the study hoped to leverage the idea of “elite cues,” or the concept that a small group of powerful people can influence the opinion of the general masses.
In other words, they wanted to exploit why companies hire influencers and celebrities as spokespeople for their products — except harness that power to aid public health.
Polls showed that about 45% of Americans polled in November 2020 intended to get vaccinated as compared to 71% in June 2021. And while that rise is good, the intent to get vaccinated hasn’t increased equally across demographics. For the Republicans who self-reported that they did not intend to vaccinate or remained unsure, the percentage only dropped 13% (from 64% in November 2020 to 51% in June 2021).
It’s all in the details
Here’s how the researchers structured the study of 1,480 self-identified Republicans. Participants were randomly shown videos featuring an endorsement of the COVID vaccine from one of three scenarios: a prominent Republican and a video of a former President Trump speech, a prominent Democrat and a video of a President Biden speech, or a neutral control option with zero endorsements.
The results? Unvaccinated Republicans exposed to the endorsements by Republican elites said they intended to get the COVID vaccine 7.0% more than those in the Democratic endorsement group and 5.7% more than those in the neutral group. And — here’s the kicker — Republicans who saw the Democratic endorsement reported that they’d be significantly less likely to encourage COVID vaccination and had more negative attitudes toward the vaccine than those in the other two groups.
Ain’t that some shit.
“Myside bias” is real
Now, before we get all our feathers in high dudgeon, let’s not pretend that this is something unique to the “idiot Republicans.”
While confirmation bias — also known as myside bias — manifests in a few different ways, one way is wherein we humans selectively evaluate the same act more favorably if done by someone we agree with or on our side and negatively if done by someone not in our group.
This is why facts don’t change people’s minds and why despite all sorts of studies and facts about the safety of COVID vaccines, endorsements by key health officials, scientists, doctors — and yes, even politicians and celebrities (people who are completely ill-qualified to give endorsements, but that’s neither here nor there) — a certain subset of Republicans absolutely refuse to get vaccinated.
Why is this study important?
Despite telling us shit we already knew, there is some good to having studies confirm gut instincts. After all, few institutions will push an expensive campaign based on your gut — healthy or otherwise — but they might based on a study of 1,480 people. (The sarcasm is heavy today, folks. Also, it’s non-optional.)
On a less snarky note, this study is helpful for three reasons. First, it shows how we can use the established elite cue dynamics to encourage Republican holdouts to improve their views of vaccines and hopefully, choose the COVID vaccine.
Second, the study adds to the growing body of research about the role trusted resources play in promoting healthy choices — as well as provides a means to help other countries counter anti-vaccination sentiment where the COVID vaccine is also politicized.
Finally, the study clarifies some of the processes steering the differences in COVID vaccinations between the two parties. The findings suggest that Republicans are less likely to support COVID vaccinations because the elite leaders in the Republican party haven’t publicized their support. It is unknown whether the leaders haven’t done so out of fear of losing their base — or if they’re just incompetent. I mean, both. Why not both?
But also, this suggests that the reluctance among Republican holdouts — a key demographic for increasing our COVID vaccination rate — is due not only to misinformation and willful ignorance about the vaccine, but also due to low awareness of the prominent Republicans in favor of the vaccine.
This is critical since most Republican leaders — including former President Trump — have now endorsed the vaccine. Perhaps it would behoove the powers that be to publicize these endorsements instead of that by key Democrats — especially since these particular testimonials only cause erstwhile Republicans to dig in their heels further and refuse vaccination.
I, for one, would really appreciate any move that would propel the U.S. towards full vaccination and recovering from the pandemic — even if it means publicizing the fumbling fuckwads who got us into this mess in the first place.