How Republican leaders could motivate their voters to get vaccinated against the coronavirus
Our research found an argument that boosts Republicans’ willingness to get vaccinated.
By John V. Kane and Ian G. Anson
October 8, 2021 at 7:00 a.m. EDT
As the pandemic rages on, many Republicans have refused to get vaccinated. Last week in the New York Times, David Leonardt and Ashley Wu showed that people in Republican-leaning states and counties are dying at much higher rates than in Democratic areas — likely because Republicans’ vaccination rates are so much lower.
Some Republican leaders, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are trying to encourage Republicans to get the shot. Recent research finds that leadership can indeed improve Republicans’ attitudes toward vaccines. But if even former president Donald Trump can be booed at a rally for recommending vaccination, other Republicans may hesitate to push their voters too hard, lest stridently anti-vaccine Republicans challenge them in their next primaries.
So what could Republican leaders do to boost their supporters’ vaccination rates?
Though recent research finds that it’s difficult to persuade vaccine skeptics, our research revealed one possible option: Remind Republicans that their choices might have electoral consequences.
Republican voters don’t want Democrats to win
Plenty of American pundits and politicians lament the extreme antipathy between the country’s “red” and “blue” voters, along with what political scientists call “negative partisanship,” or siding with a party because of extreme dislike for the other side. We wondered whether Republican leaders could encourage vaccination by urging followers to remain healthy enough to get out, vote, beat the Democrats, and thus avoid the anguish of losing an election.
That’s hardly far-fetched. With tens of millions of U.S. covid-19 cases reported and more than 700,000 dead, the pandemic could indeed shift the electoral map — something Philip Bump recently examined here at The Post.
Here’s how we did our research
Between Sept. 22 and 23, we surveyed a nationally representative sample of approximately 1,200 adult partisans in the United States, obtained via Lucid.
We randomly divided respondents into two different groups. One group read a message from their party’s national committee warning that if they didn’t get vaccinated, the party could lose the next election. For Republicans, an excerpt of that message read:
Please make sure you and your friends/relatives get vaccinated so you can help us defeat the Democrats in the next election. The stakes are very high: If we don’t get vaccinated against covid-19, Democrats might keep their hold on Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. They might possibly even keep the White House in 2024.
We call this the “shot to win” group. The other half read a selection about something unrelated, with no discussion of the vaccine or the election.
We then asked all respondents a series of follow-up questions about how willing they would be to get vaccinated and how willing they would be to encourage family members to get vaccinated.
We also asked if they would like to be provided, at the end of the survey, with CDC information about covid-19 myths and facts and a CDC guide to where they could get vaccinated nearby. If respondents requested this information, we did provide these links.
Republicans responded to the “shot to win” message
Republicans who read the “shot to win” excerpt were much more favorable toward the coronavirus vaccine than those in the control group, who didn’t receive any message from the party’s national committee.
Republicans who hadn’t yet been vaccinated were 11 percentage points more willing to get the shot than those that read the neutral message; those who had already been vaccinated were four percentage points more willing to get the booster shot, once it’s available. All Republicans in the “shot to win” group were 17 percentage points more likely to ask for CDC facts about the vaccine, and 11 percentage points more likely to ask for CDC information about where to get vaccinated.
Similarly, reading the “shot to win” message left Republicans 12 percentage points more likely to encourage hesitating family members to get vaccinated.
A shot to win
If Republican leaders want to encourage their voters to get vaccinated using this message, they could avoid looking weak for endorsing vaccines; instead, they could look strong for emphasizing victory over their enemies — and strength is a trait that Republicans thrive on. They could also likely avoid being seen as traitors to their party, since the message itself would be one of party support.
By pointing to potential consequences in an election, Republican leaders can keep the focus on what members of their party want: beating the Democrats. The strategy could spread a pro-vaccination message without alienating the Republican base or potentially attracting a primary challenge from vaccine opposers.
To end the pandemic, the United States needs to undo the politicization of vaccination. Appeals to science, social solidarity, and even self-preservation have come up against the realities of partisan polarization. By accepting and even leveraging negative partisanship, or the animosity many Americans feel for the “other” party, Republican leaders might be able to save lives by appealing to their followers’ desire to win over the Democrats.
John V. Kane (@UptonOrwell) is an assistant professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University.
Ian G. Anson (@iganson) is an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The Indiana University Bloomington Department of Political Science is very pleased to acknowledge Anthony DeMattee, one of our recent PhDs who is currently on a postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University that is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Dr. DeMattee’s dissertation recently earned three awards from the American Political Science Association, which is an incredible accomplishment (and quite possibly a record!). Dr. DeMattee’s dissertation explores the regulation of nongovernmental “civil society organizations”, in particular those related to human rights, with a special focus on the regions of the Caribbean and East Africa.
In the first, the Leonard D. White Award for the best dissertation in the field of public administration, the award committee noted “This is a project that will be a must-read for students of developmental governance and human rights who seek a deeper institutional-based understanding of the relationships between the state and non-government organizations.”
In the second, the Edward S. Corwin Award for the best dissertation in the field of public law, the award committee noted that “[t]his remarkable dissertation uses five different methods, and data collected from 17 countries, over a time span ranging from 1872 to 2019 to explain ‘the conditions under which governments enact and enforce permissive and restrictive legal provisions’” and expects this “great contribution” to be published in leading outlets very quickly.
The third “best dissertation” award was granted by the Human Rights section of APSA. The Award committee noted that “the committee was especially impressed with the depth and technical sophistication of DeMattee’s analysis and with his willingness to embrace a strikingly diverse range of methods to answer the questions that motivated the project.”
We are very proud of the work that Dr. DeMattee did while at IUB, and we are looking forward to seeing what he does next. He is on the academic job market this year, so those with lines in public policy, public law, public administration, human rights, and related areas should definitely take a long look at his work. More information about Dr. DeMattee and his award-winning scholarship can be found at his website.
EP13: The roots of the Taliban and other terrorist organizations operating in Afghanistan
Welcome to the second part of this deep look into Afghanistan.
Peter speaks to Professor Sumit Ganguly who provides the history and background of the Taliban’s origins, and Professor Amira Jadoon one of the world’s foremost experts on ISIS-K.
You can find Professor Amira Jadoon on Twitter – @AmiraJadoon – and her website is www.amirajadoon.net
Further reading by Professor Sumit Ganguly is available on his website www.sumitganguly.com
Still to come on I’ve Been Thinking episodes with Vincent Brown, Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard, and author of Sad Little Men: Private Schools and the Ruin of England, Richard Beard, so please do subscribe or follow the podcast from where you listen.
From Tim Hellwig:
We are pleased to announce that the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, through its Accountable Institutions and Behavior (AIB) and Build and Broaden 2.0 (B2 2.0) programs, has funded our project Public Support in Challenging Times: Varieties of Crises, Elite Responses, and Executive Approval.
Our project tests a unifying framework of crisis accountability across economic, security, natural disaster & public health domains. We posit at least four things should matter for popular support in the face of crisis: (1) ease of assigning role responsibility; (2) degree of expert consensus on policy response; (3) tendency for spill-over effects across policy domains; and (4) extent to which effective responses require citizen action. Our framework motivates a set of hypotheses, which we assess through analysis of a cross-national dataset to assess the effects of crisis type on public approval for political executives, a high-frequency time-series dataset to test how approval dynamics reflect leader responses, and survey experiments designed to examine causal links between crisis type and approval and to isolate the impact of messaging on public opinion.
The $684,000 award over 2.5 years is shared by Co-PIs from five universities. Funds will support massive data collection efforts and research support via a post-doc and undergraduate and graduate research assistants. Much of the funds will be used scientific research capacity at minority-serving institutions.