A month later, let's check in on the GOP's (supposed) COVID vaccination messaging 180º turnaround

COVID-19 Vaccine

Exactly a month ago I posted an in-depth analysis in which I broke out all 3,114 counties, parishes, boroughs & census areas throughout the 50 United States (+DC) into a 3x3 grid as follows:

  • Blue Counties: Low-Vaxx
  • Blue Counties: Moderate-Vaxx
  • Blue Counties: High-Vaxx
  • Swing Counties: Low-Vaxx
  • Swing Counties: Moderate-Vaxx
  • Swing Counties: High-Vaxx
  • Red Counties: Low-Vaxx
  • Red Counties: Moderate-Vaxx
  • Red Counties: High-Vaxx.

...or, put more visually:

At the time I was mostly interested in looking at the outlier counties--the poorly-vaccinated solidly blue counties and the highly-vaccinated solid red counties.

I also noted that, to no great surprise, the makeup of those 146 "Blue Low-Vaxx" counties is pretty telling:

  • 79 are majority Black
  • 19 more have at least a 40% Black population
  • 8 have a majority Native American population

A week later, I decided to take a look at how the low-vaxx blue counties compared to the low-vaxx red counties. My rationale was that FOX News and the Republican leadership seemed, after months of anti-vaccination rhetoric and messaging, to have collectively decided to do a complete 180 on messaging:

Generally speaking, however, it sure sounds to me like someone in the GOP now believes that their 6-month anti-vaxx propaganda campaign is starting to kill off their own voter base, because everyone from Sean Hannity to Florida Governor Ron "Don't Fauci my Florida" DeSantis seem to have finally gotten the memo.

As Josh Marshall noted over at Talking Points Memo:

There aren’t any good answers. But the most plausible bad answer continues to be bad polling. Perhaps not literally polling. There are other gauges of public opinion: focus groups, reactions at townhalls. My best guess is that Republicans see that a lot of their constituents – despite the tough talk on Twitter – are suddenly pretty worried about COVID. And because of that – somehow – Republican politicians suddenly feel exposed. Like they’re the ones holding the ‘poo-poo COVID, don’t get vaccinated’ bag when their voters are freaking out.

I wanted to see whether this sudden flip-flop by the GOP apparatus...which just happened to have started in earnest on the exact same day that I had posted my "low-vaxx blue / high-vaxx red" analysis--was having any effect or not. Given the timing, it made perfect sense to use the lower-two categories of counties as my baseline:

  • 146 counties were "low-vaxx Blue" (< 45% vaxxed, < 45% Trump) as of 7/21

Remember, 73% of these counties are either majority Black, 40%+ Black or majority Native American.

  • 2,103 counties were "low-vaxx Red" (<45% vaxxed, > 55% Trump) as of 7/21

Meanwhile, 1,900 of these counties, or roughly 90% of them, are over 70% White.

Unfortunately, I made two major errors in this analysis: The first one was a bone-headed methodology mistake which I won't rehash here, but which I've since corrected. The second was a simple matter of timing: My county-level vaccination level analysis is based on fully-vaccinated individuals only. Since it takes 3 - 4 weeks after someone gets their first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine before they get their second dose (and are thus counted as being fully vaxxed), any impact from the GOP messaging shift wouldn't start showing up in the actual "fully vaccinated" numbers until at least August 11th for Pfizer and at least August 18th for Moderna.

THEREFORE, I decided to cool my jets and wait until exactly one month later to re-do my analysis...which happens to be today.

Here's what it looks like. Note that the total populations of the two groups shifted slightly due to my updating the county population data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2019 estimates to their official 2020 Census numbers, but this doesn't change anything about the relative increase in fully-vaccinated residents in each:

The Red Low-Vaxx counties have a much higher population than the Blue Low-Vaxx counties for an obvious reason: There's more than 14x as many of them. Much of this is cancelled out by the Blue counties being much more densely populated, of course, but it still amounts to a 2.2x higher total population.

From July 21st (the very day that the GOP/FOX messaging "reversal" began) through August 21st (exactly one month later), the number of fully vaccinated Blue Low-Vaxx county residents has increased by 1.04 million, while this number has increased by 1.69 million in the Red Low-Vaxx counties...63% higher in terms of raw numbers.

However, seeing how there are 2.2x as many people living in those Red counties, this actually translates into the 146 Blue counties having increased their vaccinated rates by 14.3% more.

Put another way, the total number of unvaccinated residents of the Blue counties has dropped from 22.0 million to 20.9 million over the past month...around 4.7%. Meanwhile, the unvaccinated portion of the Red counties has dropped from 53.4 million to 51.7 million...less than 3.2%.

This isn't a dramatic gap, mind you, but it still suggests to me that while both groups have seen an uptick in vaccination rates over the past few weeks, the so-called "vaccine hesitant" BIPOC populations of the Blue counties have actually been spurred into finally getting vaccinated at a faster rate than the heavily White residents of MAGA country.

My guess is that the GOP/FOX messaging shift hasn't really impacted anything--it's the skyrocketing Delta variant numbers which are likely the overwhelming reason for the uptick on both fronts.

I'll follow up on this in another month to see if anything has changed. Hopefully both vaccination numbers are dramatically higher.