Republicans, Not Democrats, Are More Likely to Endorse Anti-Vaccine Misinformation

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2021, Vol. 49(5) 428 –438
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211022639
The idea that self-identified Democrats in the US adult popu-
lation are primarily to blame for the popularity of childhood
vaccine misinformation (i.e., that childhood vaccines like
MMR can cause autism) has become a mainstream argument
in contemporary discourse about vaccine safety. Journalistic
outlets, for example, have noted that vaccine refusal tends to
be more common in traditionally liberal (“blue”) versus tra-
ditionally conservative (“red”) states; potentially indicative
of higher levels of vaccine skepticism and misinformation
endorsement in those areas (Berezow, 2014). This view is
supported by academic research identifying liberal metro-
politan areas as “hot spots” for vaccine exemptions and
refusal (Olive et al., 2018).
Additionally, some journalists have portrayed those who
view childhood vaccines as unsafe—and/or those who avoid
vaccinating their children—as so-called “Whole Foods
Moms” (e.g., Lubrano, 2019); that is, middle-income women
who shop at higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods,
which tend to sell a variety of popular homeopathic and natu-
ral remedies to common medical ailments (Stone, 2019).
Although these pieces do not always expressly typecast
“Whole Foods Moms” as Democrats, the Whole Foods brand
itself has come to take on a decisively liberal reputation in
the US. Election analysts, for example, often note sharp dif-
ferences in voting behavior between areas that have Whole
Foods stores versus those that do not (e.g., Collins, 2018;
Fearnow, 2019), which has been referred to be some election
commentators as the “Whole Foods Bubble” (Wasserman,
Still others (e.g., Bricker & Justice, 2019) note anecdot-
ally that prominent anti-vaccine activist Robert Kennedy Jr.
(Mnookin, 2017), has longstanding dies to the Democratic
party and has endorsed several Democratic presidential can-
didates (e.g., Welch, 2003). Some celebrities who question
vaccine safety (e.g., Bricker & Justice, 2019) have also made
public statements indicating that they hold politically liberal
views (Furdyk, 2017).
Although the anecdotal link between identification with
the Democratic party and vaccine misinformation has
found a footing in popular discourse, academic research on
the issue is considerably more mixed. In a synthesis of
recent research on anti-vaccine opinion in the US, Bricker
and Justice (2019) point to public opinion data suggesting
that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to view
childhood vaccines as unsafe. Although these differences
are substantively small and statistically not differentiable
from one another (Funk et al., 2015), they are consistent
with research suggesting that parents who self-identify as
1022639APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211022639American Politics ResearchMotta
1Oklahoma State University System, Stillwater, USA
Corresponding Author:
Matthew Motta, Oklahoma State University System, 210 Social Science
and Humanities Building, Stillwater, OK 74076-1749, USA.
Republicans, Not Democrats, Are
More Likely to Endorse Anti-Vaccine
Matthew Motta1
Vaccine safety skeptics are often thought to be more likely to self-identify as Democrats (vs. Independents or Republicans).
Recent studies, however, suggest that childhood vaccine misinformation is either more common among Republicans, or
is uninfluenced by partisan identification (PID). Uncertainty about the partisan underpinnings of vaccine misinformation
acceptance is important, as it could complicate efforts to pursue pro-vaccine health policies. I theorize that Republicans
should be more likely to endorse anti-vaccine misinformation, as they tend to express more-negative views toward scientific
experts. Across six demographically and nationally representative surveys, I find that—while few Americans think that “anti-
vaxxers” are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats—Republican PID is significantly associated with the belief that
childhood vaccines can cause autism. Consistent with theoretical expectations, effect is strongly mediated by anti-expert
attitudes—an effect which supplemental panel analyses suggest is unlikely to be reverse causal.
vaccine skepticism, misinformation, political psychology, partisanship, public opinion

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