Here, the undeniable reality is that childhood vaccines are safe and do not cause autism. So do liberals deny this fact more frequently than conservatives?
Recent research suggests the answer to that question is “no.” In a 2013 paper published in PLOS One, for instance, Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues surveyed a representative sample of 1001 Americans about their ideological beliefs and their views on contentious science topics. That included vaccines, where they used a five item questionnaire to assess people’s views, including items like “I believe that vaccines are a safe and reliable way to help avert the spread of preventable diseases” and “I believe that vaccines have negative side effects that outweigh the benefits of vaccination for children.”
The study did not find that people on the left were more likely to oppose or distrust vaccines. Rather, it found a highly nuanced result. The researchers examined two related but distinct contributors to right-wing ideology: self-identification as a political conservative and support for the free market. It found that while the former was related to somewhat more vaccine support, the latter was related to somewhat more vaccine opposition. According to Lewandowsky, the two opposing forces “virtually cancel overall.”
Other studies have found similar results. In a 2009 paper, Yale’s Dan Kahan and his colleagues found that the conservative ideological values of “hierarchy” and “individualism” were both linked to greater opposition to the HPV vaccine in particular. In a paper from earlier this year, meanwhile, Kahan found that the idea of a link between the political left and the belief that vaccines in general are dangerous “lacks any factual basis.” In fact, if anything, he found a small increase in belief in vaccine risks as one moved to the right of the political spectrum.
Good to see the Kahan work is getting noticed.
As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a huge ascertainment bias at play: the pundit class doesn’t know very many middle class (or poor) people, especially conservatives. The only anti-vaxxers they’ll know or encounter are those who live in their metropolitan areas, which tend to trend liberal-ish. That, combined with the gradual replacement of the ‘limousine liberal’ stereotype (which is factually untrue–as you go up the income ladder, people tend to become less liberal) by the ‘Whole Foods liberal’ stereotype, has led to this belief that liberals are more likely to be anti-vax. Of course, a lot of conservatives who deny global warming have vested interest in being able to claim ‘they do it too!’, so there’s that at work as well.
Good for Mooney for laying this out so clearly.