President Donald Trump presided over the fastest vaccine development process in history, leading to abundant, free vaccines in the US by the spring of 2021. Although the mRNA Covid-19 vaccines haven’t been able to stop transmission of the virus, they have been highly effective against hospitalization and death, saving hundreds of thousands of lives and rendering the majority of new Covid-19 deaths preventable.
Trump has received three doses of the vaccine. But many of his most dedicated supporters have refused, and many have died as a result. Why? Obvious culprits include misinformation on social media and Fox News and the election of Joe Biden, which placed a Democrat at the top of the US government throughout the vaccine distribution period. But if you look closely at the data, you’ll see that vaccine-hesitant conservatives largely made up their mind well before the vaccines were available and before Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.
To understand why, I took a deep dive into the data, interviewed researchers, and spoke to people who lost loved ones to preventable severe Covid-19 infections. What I found is a stark cautionary tale for the country and for Republican political elites. Partisan polarization takes on a life of its own; once set into motion it’s nearly impossible to stop, even when the fallout is immense and irreparable.
Further reading and sources:
- CDC provisional Covid-19 deaths by sex and age
- CDC Covid-19 vaccination rates in the United States by jurisdiction
- CDC rates of Covid-19 cases and deaths by vaccination status
- CDC rates of Covid-19 cases and deaths by age group and vaccination status
- Polling data on public attitudes and experiences with Covid-19 vaccinations, January 2022
- Constituency returns for elections to the US presidency
- Reuters/Ipsos survey on coronavirus vaccines, May 2020
- Pew Research Center’s survey on public views about other vaccines such as measles, mumps, and rubella
- Pew Research Center analysis of new sources trusted based on political alignment
- Polling data on public attitudes and experiences with Covid-19 vaccinations, January 2021
- Data on media and misinformation surrounding Covid-19 vaccinations, November 2021
- Polling data on the likelihood of getting a coronavirus vaccine by political affiliation
- The increasing importance of partisanship in predicting Covid-19 vaccination status, presented by KFF
- Polling data on views of the importance given to the Covid-19 outbreak by political affiliation, presented by Pew Research Center
- A study on Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy
- Polarization and Social Change Lab at Stanford