Pew Research confirms the GOP now officially owns the anti-vaxx movement
Back in 2021 when I was posting weekly (and later, monthly) analysis of COVID vaccination rates at the county level, several counties in particular caught my eye for different reasons. One of these was Marin County, California. As I noted at the time:
Of counties with more than 100,000 residents, the top-vaxxed are Marin County, CA (76.9% vaxxed); Sumter County, FL (76.4%); and Montgomery County, MD (76.2% vaxxed).
Ironically, prior to the COVID pandemic, ultra-liberal Marin County (Trump only received 16% of the vote here) happened to be one of the birthplaces of the recent "anti-vaxx movement" resurgence...
As explained by Soumya Karlamangla in the New York Times / Buffalo News last fall:
For more than a decade, few places in the nation were associated with anti-vaccine movements as much as Marin County, the bluff-lined peninsula of coastal redwoods and stunning views just north of San Francisco.
This corner of the Bay Area had become a prime example of a highly educated, affluent community with low childhood vaccination rates, driven by a contingent of liberal parents skeptical of traditional medicine. Marin was something of a paradox to mainstream Democrats, and often a punching bag. In 2015, during a measles outbreak in California, comedian Jon Stewart blamed Marin parents for being guilty of a "mindful stupidity."
But Marin is the anti-vaccine capital no more.
In the pandemic age, getting a Covid-19 shot has become the defining "vax" or "anti-vax" litmus test, and on that account, Marin County has embraced vaccines at rates that surpass the vast majority of communities in the nation. It comes after public health efforts to change parents' opinions, as well as a strict state mandate that students get vaccinated for childhood diseases.
There are two people primarily responsible for the anti-vaxx movement of the pre-COVID era in the United States: Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy. Wakefield, of course, published an infamous & fraudulent "study" in 1998 which falsely connected the Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism in children, while former Playboy Playmate & sometime actress Jenny McCarthy popularized Wakefield's false claims to the general public starting in 2007, with a contingent of people believing Wakefield's garbage claims for the next decade.
My recollection is that the pre-COVID anti-vaxx movement was primarily associated with the left ideologically, but that there wasn't actually that much of a partisan divide overall; I suspect this was mainly because, again, until the COVID pandemic hit, "Hollywood types" like McCarthy, Alicia Silverstone, Jim Carrey and, yes, Donald Trump, who had spent decades associating himself more with Democrats than Republicans were the ones pushing their views more prominently. It also didn't help that supposed "Democrat" and conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has long been promoting anti-vaxx propaganda.
My personal suspicion is that you can trace the beginning of a shift in partisan anti-vaxx views to a specific date: September 18, 2015...the date of the 2nd Republican Party Presidential Debate.
That was the evening that Donald Trump, who was then running against about a dozen others for the Republican nomination, was asked about vaccines and autism...and made up a story about them being connected:
TAPPER: …A backlash against vaccines was blamed for a measles outbreak here in California. Dr. Carson, Donald Trump has publicly and repeatedly linked vaccines, childhood vaccines, to autism, which, as you know, the medical community adamantly disputes.
...TRUMP: Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.
I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Because you take a baby in — and I’ve seen it — and I’ve seen it, and I had my children taken care of over a long period of time, over a two or three year period of time.
Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me.
Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.
I only say it’s not — I’m in favor of vaccines, do them over a longer period of time, same amount.
While Trump threw in a couple of "I support vaccines" into his nonsense response, the damage was already done: Millions of people heard him falsely connect vaccines to autism, and the rest is history. And of course one major reason for the increase in diagnosis of autism is that the medical community has gotten much better at identifying it than they were several decades ago.
Well, a new Pew Research survey of over 10,000 U.S. adults conducted in March now proves what I've been noting for two years now: Anti-vaxx beliefs are not only no longer even slightly more widespread among those on the left side of the political spectrum, they've swung sharply to the right side of the aisle...and not just for COVID-19:
Seven-in-ten Americans now say healthy children should be required to be vaccinated in order to attend public schools. This is a smaller majority than the 82% who supported vaccine requirements for children in 2019 and 2016. The share who say parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children now stands at 28%, up 12 points from four years ago. This data mirrors a December 2022 KFF update of these Pew Research Center trends.
The decline in support for vaccine requirements for children has been driven by changing views among Republicans: 57% now support requiring children to be vaccinated to attend public schools, down from 79% in 2019. By contrast, there’s been no meaningful change in the large share of Democrats (85%) who support school-based vaccine requirements.
These dynamics echo patterns seen over the past three years regarding coronavirus-related activity restrictions and COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Partisans have often been at odds over policy questions in these areas, with Republicans much more likely than Democrats to oppose activity restrictions and vaccine requirements.
White evangelical Protestants – a largely Republican group — have also become much less supportive of vaccine requirements in public schools. In the current survey, 58% say children should be required to be vaccinated to attend public schools, while 40% say parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for others. This represents a sizable shift from 2019, when White evangelicals backed vaccine requirements for public school children by a margin of 77% to 2o%.
Let me repeat that: "Even if that may create health risks for others."
Not only has the percentage of Republicans who oppose mandatory MMR vaccines more than doubled among Republicans since 2019 (from 20% to 42%), they've also gone from being "only" 66% more likely to oppose MMR mandates for children than Democrats to being 3 times as likely to oppose them.
And of course, as you'd imagine, that's where you also get results like this one (see last set of data): Republicans are 3.5x more likely not to be vaccinated for COVID-19 at all than Democrats: