To what extent do Republican voters differ from the general population on the topic of vaccines?

Many Republicans express skepticism about the safety of vaccines and argue that the public shouldn’t be urged to be vaccinated.

The anti-vaccine political movement has been the subject of a five-part series, of which this is the fourth installment.

After the global pandemic, the GOP became a safe haven for vaccine skeptics. More than simply the Covid incident is involved.

Before 2020, there was little partisan variation on questions of vaccination, such as whether or not pupils attending public schools were required to have the measles vaccine. Republican voters, however, have moved in a different direction since Covid.

Republican voters are less likely than Democrats or independents to say vaccines are safe for children, according to a new POLITICO | Morning Consult poll done as part of POLITICO’s ongoing series about the increasing anti-vax movement. Furthermore, research demonstrates that many Republicans now value the potential dangers of vaccines over their potential health advantages.

According to the results of the study, the growth in voters who question the safety and efficacy of vaccines, despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary, has been driven almost entirely by members of one political party. While not a majority of Republicans are against recommending that Americans obtain immunizations, many have concerns about the safety of even the most well-studied vaccines. The topic is showing up in unusual ways in the Republican primary as voters throughout the country think about who to select for the presidential run next year.

Increased Republican vaccination safety concerns
Although there is significant party disagreement on the topic, a majority of voters in general recognize vaccination’s benefits.

In a recent survey, 76% of Democrats indicated they “care more about potential health benefits than the potential health risks of vaccines.” Among Republicans, however, the vote is deadlocked at 50% in favor of health risks and 50% in favor of benefits.

Eighty-six percent of voters overall agree that vaccines are “very” or “somewhat” safe for adults aged 18 and up.

The differences between the two sides are more subtle than they appear at first glance. Overall, 48% of respondents agreed that vaccines are “very safe,” with 64% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans holding this view. 46% of Republicans said they feel “somewhat safe” about them, showing that doubt about vaccines among Republicans isn’t the same as outright opposition.

Covid is the main point of disagreement between the parties.
Disagreement between the two groups is at its largest when discussing the Covid shot. Ninety-one percent of Democratic voters indicated they were “very” or “somewhat” confident in the safety of Covid vaccinations for adults. However, only 52% of Republicans shared this view.

Republicans are split on whether or not the Covid vaccine is safe for adults, with 27% saying it is “very safe” and 23% saying it is “very unsafe.”

Republicans are also far more doubtful about the efficacy of campaigns to promote Covid immunization.

To what extent Americans “should be able to make their own decisions” about the Covid vaccine “without the input of others,” 64 percent of Democratic voters said Americans should be encouraged to get the shot, while only 26 percent of Republicans agreed. The Democratic percentage of those who agree that Americans should be free to make their own decisions without interference is lower than the Republican percentage (58% to 31%).

Conservatives are less likely to get the Covid booster shot than liberals, despite its recent availability.

Among parents, the political gap is narrower.
While the gap between Democratic and Republican parents is narrower than it is between other demographics, it is still sizeable and seems to be widening.

Most parents (79%) say they “tend to follow a government-recommended vaccine schedule” for their children; this includes 86% of Democratic parents, 74% of Republican parents, and 71% of independent parents.

The POLITICO | Morning Consult poll provides a representative sample of modern attitudes toward vaccination. The scope of the movement among Republican self-identification is shown by other polls. Pew Research Center found that in 2016, 82% of Americans agreed that children attending public schools should be required to have proof of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations. This included 83% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans.

However, a recent Pew survey found that only 70% of Americans believe the MMR vaccine should be required for school entry, with a wide partisan divide. Over the course of the seven years, the percentage of voters who identified as Democrats stayed around 85%. However, among Republicans, support for making vaccinations mandatory fell precipitously, from 81 percent to 57 percent.

The POLITICO | Morning Consult survey posed the same question, “Should common childhood vaccines be required to attend public school?” but also gave respondents the option of selecting “Yes” or “No” on whether exemptions should be given for health and religious reasons. Of those polled, 53% agreed that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine should always be mandatory; this included 66% of Democrats, 47% of Republicans, and 46% of independents.

Controversy over vaccines and the 2024 election.
Republican party leaders’ dabbling with unsubstantiated or rejected assertions regarding the safety of vaccines has fueled voters’ skepticism. Political leaders in the GOP have tried to appeal to the anti-vaccine elements of the party, from Donald Trump’s baseless claims that vaccines cause autism during the 2016 campaign to Ron DeSantis’ administration discouraging Floridians under the age of 65 from getting a Covid booster this month.

In particular, DeSantis has tried to use the Covid injection to distinguish himself from Trump, whose administration oversaw the rapid development of vaccines under “Operation Warp Speed.” However, DeSantis’s counterattacks have failed thus far.

Despite Trump’s participation in creating the Covid injection, Republican voters who are skeptical of vaccines are more likely to support him than any other candidate. Among Republicans who voted for Trump, 34% believed vaccines should not be given to children under the age of 18. That’s twice as many as the percentage of Republicans who backed one of his primary opponents who believed vaccines aren’t safe for kids (just 17 percent).

Republican voters, despite their reservations over the shot, nonetheless see Operation Warp Speed as one of Trump’s administration’s successes. A majority of Republican primary voters (56%) view Trump’s work on the Covid shot as a favorable legacy achievement, while a minority (10%) view it negatively.

As further proof that politics colors everyone’s opinions, only 36% of Democratic voters think of Operation Warp Speed as a favorable aspect of Trump’s legacy, while only 17% think of it as a harmful element of his legacy.

On September 9-10, 2018, POLITICO and Morning Consult polled the general public (toplines, crosstabs available). It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and is based on an online survey of 1,967 registered voters. Margin of error increases for subgroup results, such as those for parents with children under the age of 18 or voters who identify with a certain party.

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