Peer pressure, not politics, may be more important when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 54 percent of eligible population had been fully vaccinated by Monday morning. This is a sign that the COVID-19 vaccine rate in the U.S. has been slowing down. Deep-red states such as Mississippi and Alabama have the lowest rates of vaccination, while states with deep blue like Vermont and Massachusetts have seen greater success in vaccinating residents.
The escalating gap between blue and red states has sparked fears that politics could be seriously undermining nations' vaccination efforts. It's a growing problem, and not without reason. There is a sharp and increasing gap in vaccination rates between Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning areas of the country. However, the focus on politics overlooks the crucial role social pressure plays when deciding whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
First, Republicans are less likely to have vaccinated friends. A May survey by the American Enterprise Institutes Survey Center on American Life (where I serve as director) found that less than half of Republicans (46%) said their friends had received at most one dose of the vaccine. Democrats are more likely to get vaccinated than their peers. Two-thirds of respondents said their friends were at least partially vaccinated.
In this survey, Republicans were less likely than Democrats to have been encouraged by family or friends to get vaccinated (28% versus 55%, respectively). One in three Republicans said that their friends and family had discouraged them from getting the vaccine, or that they had received mixed messages on the importance of getting it.
This is significant because, while partisanship can influence our behavior, social science research repeatedly shows that friends have a profound and often unnoticeable effect on our lives. If you have obese friends, your chances of becoming a smoker or obese friend increase.
It may also be applicable to the COVID-19 vaccination.
According to the Survey Center on American Life, Americans with more vaccinated friends were more likely to get the vaccine than those without. This was also true for Republicans, despite the fact that they had higher rates overall of vaccine hesitancy. Ninety-three per cent of Republicans with friends who were at least partially vaccinated also had been vaccinated. Only 19% of Republicans who had only a few friends or none who were partially vaccinated reported that they had received the jab.
You are likely to be vaccinated if your friends are. Share of respondents who have been vaccinated at least partly by asking how many of their friends have been vaccinated overall or by party. Share of vaccinated friends All Republicans Democrats 98% 93% 100% About half of them 90 85 93 Half of them 61 52 70 A few 27 19 35 respondents self-reported their vaccination status. Source: Survey Center on American Life
Self-selection is possible in this relationship as friends tend to share our values. However, even after controlling for personal factors like age, gender and race, the results showed that our friends' vaccination status strongly predicted ours.
While we should not discount the importance of politics in vaccine resistance, it is notable that this reluctance among Republicans is not universal. The reasons behind this reluctance are not all political. According to a May Kaiser Family Foundation survey, the political gap between people 65 years and older was quite small. In getting vaccinated, older Americans in Trump-voting states did not fare well compared to those in Biden-voting states (63 percent versus 71%). Younger adults were the ones who expressed the most vaccine hesitancy. A June Morning Consult survey revealed that 43% of those aged 18 to 34 didn't want to be vaccinated or were unsure.
COVID-19 is much more dangerous to older people. They have more personal motivations to get vaccinated but also face greater social pressure. The Survey Center on American Life found that older Americans were more likely to have vaccinated their friends than younger Americans.
There are many levels of social pressure for Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccination. Our friends have a significant influence on the information we receive and the decisions that we make.