As the vaccine issue has been thrust into mainstream politics, there has been intense focus — and frantic poll-crawling — to try to find out who thinks what about it.
So let’s play along. It turns out there’s revealing new data on this front this morning from Yale researcher Dan Kahan — who finds that members of the tea party are slightly more skeptical of vaccines than Democrats or mainstream Republicans. But he also finds that this is absolutely nothing like the gap between the tea party and the other groups on climate change.
Here’s the first chart that Kahan provides, examining Democrat, mainline conservative Republican, and tea party beliefs on whether vaccines are worth the risk. Both the central and right column depict the views of conservative Republicans, but they are separated by whether they self identified as members of the tea party (on the far right) or not (in the center):
Kahan does not think this signals a very partisan issue. I think most informed observers would agree.
However, it is nonetheless noteworthy that tea partiers are 10 percent less supportive than Democrats (84 percent to 74 percent). This certainly undermines further the myth that vaccine skepticism is a left wing phenomenon.
But now look at the same breakdown on climate change:
Here, political polarization is just off the charts.
So I think there is a complex message here, overall. It may be that on the right, there is slightly more vaccine hesitancy than on the left. But this fact must be considered in a key context: In all political groups, more than 70 percent of people believe that the benefits that come from vaccinating outweigh any purported health risks.
With data like these, we can therefore explain two things: 1) why conservative politicians seem to be the ones saying things that appear to at least partly question mandatory vaccinations lately; but why 2) the issue still shouldn’t be taken as partisan, or polarizing — and why we should keep it that way.