The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The price of Republicans’ war on reality: Vaccine denial

A medical technician administers a covid-19 test in East Boston, Mass., on Thursday. (Cj Gunther/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Imagine getting tossed overboard in the middle of the ocean, but refusing to grab on to a lifeline because you choose not to “believe” in the ocean. That is essentially what large numbers of Americans are telling pollsters. The Pew Research Center reports: “Overall, 60% of Americans say they would definitely or probably get a vaccine for the coronavirus, if one were available today, up from 51% who said this in September.” However, there is a “19-point gap between the shares of Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party (69%) and Republicans and Republican leaners (50%) who currently say they would get vaccinated for the coronavirus.”

As one might expect, people who think they are not at risk and who are skeptical of the vaccine-development process are far less likely to get a vaccination. Because only 37 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners are “very" or “somewhat” concerned about getting a serious case of covid-19 (compared to 66 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners), they are heavily overrepresented in the group not inclined to get vaccinated.

Most stunning, with roughly 200,000 new cases a day and close to 3,000 deaths per day, only 43 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners think covid-19 is a major public health threat (84 percent of Democrats and those leaning Democrat say the same).

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Now, before we take polling as infallible, we should acknowledge that some Republicans may be dismissing covid-19 and downplaying the need for vaccinations when speaking to pollsters out of some misbegotten tribal loyalty to President Trump and the MAGA covid-deniers. But that only highlights the problem.

If Trump was greatly successful in dealing with covid-19, as the president and others often claim, the disease cannot be a major risk. If Trump was correct that masks and stay-at-home orders are akin to tyranny, then covid-19 cannot be much of a threat, right? No one should be all that surprised by these poll numbers. Tribal identification for those belonging to a party that lives in an alternate reality, rejects science and defines political loyalty as willingness to “own the libs" means you must be willing to put yourself in danger to avoid cognitive dissonance. Denial, conspiracies and flat-out lying replace reason — or even the instinct for self-preservation.

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You can, therefore, understand the difficulty of getting such Republicans to accept more remote threats (e.g., climate change) and political results that undermine their faith in Trump. If the MAGA crowd can be convinced that covid-19 is not a big deal despite mass casualties, they will surely cling to the notion that elections do not matter and should be overturned if they do not go their way. And that, in turn, poses a dilemma for Republican politicians such as Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who need to keep one foot in the real world (the election isn’t rigged, you need to vote) and one foot in the Trump bubble (the election was rigged, there’s no point to voting).

Republicans who think enabling Trump’s lies and self-delusions is harmless should think again. They are systematically destroying their followers’ rational, sometimes lifesaving capacity to make decisions. That may result in even higher death tolls, not to mention further erosion of their adherence to democratic elections. Republican voters are drowning in MAGA propaganda. The response from cowed Republicans is to keep throwing them anvils. This will not end well.

Read more:

Matt Bai: How to tell fact from fiction at the end of the Trump era

Eugene Robinson: A climate catastrophe is upon us. Biden can still make a difference.

Michael Gerson: Republicans, it isn’t too late to stand up for the nation

The Post’s View: The GOP’s push to slime its own honest members is just a grab for cash and political advantage

E.J. Dionne Jr.: The destructive myth about divided government

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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