Welcome to FiveThirtyEights politics chat. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Sarah Frostenson, Sarah Frostenson, political editor: There is an increased urgency to get vaccines as the rate of vaccinations has been steadily declining since April.
The COVID-19 surge has been devastating for those who have not been vaccinated. States with low vaccination rates like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida are among the hardest hit. Low vaccination rates are often heavily Republican-leaning states, which has led to some Republican leaders in these states making a sudden shift in their views on vaccination. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former White House press secretary and Arkansas governor candidate, wrote an editorial on Sunday urging Arkansans to get vaccinated. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise from Louisiana was given his first dose of the vaccine earlier in the month. Even Fox News's most prominent on-air talent, who has been critical of vaccine coverage, has pushed for vaccination in recent week.
It begs the question: Can any of this stop another pandemic? Let's examine what we know so far about those who have not been vaccinated and what science has to say about vaccines.
What do we know so far about those who have not been vaccinated yet?
alex (Alex Samuels is a politics reporter): The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll in May to determine the most common demographic profiles among unvaccinated Americans. 49% of the group were aged 30-49, with 49 percent identifying as Republicans, while 29 percent identified themselves as Democrats. 56 percent of those surveyed were white, 81% had no college degree, 56% were from the suburbs, and 76 percent were insured. Unvaccinated Americans were also more likely to have low income than those with high income, according to the study.
There was a sharp contrast in the unvaccinated group. The majority of them were white (70%), 67% Republican (66%), and 48% were between 30 and 49 years old. The second group was slightly more diverse. 39 percent of those who waited and saw were Democrats and 41 percent were Republicans. Additionally, 22 percent of those who were hesitant were Black adults and 20 percent were Hispanic adults. This group included seventy-two per cent of those who were between 18 and 49 years old.
maggie.koerth (Maggie Koerth senior science writer): We know that most people made decisions months before vaccine availability and have remained true to these choices. The same KFF polling showed that only one fifth of respondents said they were unsure or not going to get the vaccine in January. They have since gotten vaccinated.
alex: This is not just about geography. Researchers have shown that Southern states are experiencing lower vaccination rates. Georgetown University researchers identified 30 counties with lower vaccination rates and larger population in a nationwide analysis. These five clusters, which included parts of Florida, Georgia and Alabama as well as Mississippi, Louisiana and Mississippi, were the most important. They covered portions of Florida and Texas, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma.
geoffrey.skelley, elections analyst: Alex's comment about the group that won't get vaccinated being especially likely to be Republican was incorrect. The Economist/YouGovs weekly survey has shown that the percentage of adults who don't think they will get vaccinated since April has remained roughly the same at 25 percent to 33 percent.
This is consistent with the polls by Democratic-aligned companies Global Strategy Group/GBAO, (Navigator Research), which have repeatedly found that about 30% of Republican registered voters believe they are very unlikely to receive the vaccine.
alex: Morning Consult conducted a survey asking Americans not vaccinated why they were not getting the vaccine in June. The biggest reason for not getting the vaccine was lack of trust in the process of vaccine development (26%) followed by concerns over safety/side effects (23%), conspiracies theories, and mistrust of government agencies and drug companies (10%)
geoffrey.skelley Perhaps that is why the vaccine has been so slow to reach younger age groups. If you are worried about your ability to make ends meet, then getting sick or missing work could discourage you from getting the vaccine. People with less income are less likely to get the vaccine.
Full 42 percent of Hispanic adults who are not vaccinated said they don't know if they are eligible, and 29 percent said they don't know where they should go if they do want to get vaccinated.
Sarah: Maggie, I was going to tell you that vaccine access remains a major problem. In June, a Public Religion Research Institute survey found that young Americans and Hispanic Americans are more likely to encounter barriers to vaccine access such as transportation issues or lack of time.
When talking about the unvaccinated, it seems like there are two types of people: 1) those who are unwilling to consider getting vaccinated and 2) those who are unsure or are concerned about getting vaccinated. Is that right?
alex: Yes, Sarah. There is polling showing that people are more likely to be vaccinated if they have financial incentives and employers encourage them to do so.
Morning Consult found that 43 percent of Americans would get a COVID-19 shot with a small financial incentive such as a $50 savings bonds. 57% of adults who were not vaccinated said that they would be more likely get inoculated if there was a $1,000 savings bond.
The KFF poll also found that 73% of those whose employers encouraged them to get vaccinated and 75% who were offered paid time off have had at least one dose.
maggie.koerth : I believe the breakdown is even more complex than that. There are two types of people: those who won't consider vaccination for political or medical reasons. Then there are the people who want to get the shot but have not yet received it. These people's reasons can fall into several categories, including access and medical concerns. Then there are concerns that are mostly about power and trusting institutions like the government and pharmaceutical companies.
Also, it seems that most people who are not vaccinated have multiple reasons why they are not. There are many overlapping circles.
This doesn't even include the very small number of people who still think, Oh, I want to do that ASAP but haven't. It's about 3 percent. They are out there.
Sarah: There are many reasons why Americans are not vaccinated. As we said at the beginning, the most important distinction is between those who are reluctant to get vaccinated and those that refuse to consider it.
PRRI's June survey found that vaccine holdouts make up only 3% of the population. However, it is important to stress that this group is very steadfast and is virtually unchanged from March (14%)
However, the good news is that this group is not growing. The number of Americans who are hesitant to get vaccinated drops as more Americans get vaccinated. Only 15% of Americans are more hesitant than in March, when they were 28 percent.
maggie.koerth You might be tempted to use that as an euphemism for "I don wanna but...", but some people actually return to get vaccinated after waiting and seeing.
sarah: Exactly, Maggie. There are many reasons why people don't get vaccinated or aren't getting vaccinated.
Let's talk about vaccination. Science isn't changing the fact that vaccines work in preventing COVID-19. However, vaccination rates have remained low since April and are not close to Biden's goal of having 70% of the population get at least one dose before the Fourth of July. What is the reason?
maggie.koerth I see a tendency to make political assumptions about people who have not yet been vaccinated. If you examine what they tell us about themselves, politics is part of the motivation.
This is the real polarization and antiestablishment sentiment that drives vaccine refusal.
Then there's the polarization in assumptions about what is driving vaccine rejection.
Both are occurring simultaneously.
alex: The New York Times published an interesting article about how young adults are one of the greatest barriers to herd immunity. Although there wasn't an obvious reason, it was suggested that young adults may be difficult to convince or misinformed about the effects of shots on fertility.
geoffrey.skelley These are the most at-risk individuals for COVID-19 and were therefore prioritized in vaccine rollout.
Younger Americans have a problem because as the country reopens, it may not be as attractive for them to get the vaccine. This is especially true considering the access barriers we mentioned. It might take another wave of people who aren't willing to give up to get the vaccine.
maggie.koerth The dosage must be adjusted for children younger than 12. This is one of the problems with testing kids under 12 years old. Smaller people require a lower dosage than adults. However, side effects tolerance for smaller individuals is higher. Here, you are dealing with a different risk/benefit equation.
There have been discussions among scientists about whether vaccines should be given to children in the U.S. due to the risk/benefit calculations.
This is a long way to say that younger people who are eligible for vaccines are doing a different calculation than the older generation.
Sarah: It is not just a political decision for people to refuse to get vaccinated. But how did vaccination become so politically? This is important because it helps us understand the vaccine holdouts who, as we have discussed, tend to be Republican and white.
alex: COVID-19 was an issue of partisanship even before the vaccination rollout. Republicans were less likely to want to impose business restrictions or wear masks during the initial stages of the pandemic than Democrats.
geoffrey.skelley : Yes. Since the beginning, Republicans have been more concerned about COVID-19 that Democrats. This could be due to the fact that Republicans have always been less likely than Democrats to see COVID-19 as a serious health threat.
This is also influenced by religion. The largest group of GOP members were white evangelical Protestants. This is a significant portion of the GOP. 24 percent said they would not get the vaccine from religious or racial/ethnic organizations PRRIs survey looked at. This figure has remained the same since PRRIs March poll. This is likely due to distrust of the mainstream media and governing bodies, which is also high in this group.
maggie.koerth: Im curious about something that I wonder if you more-politics people have insight on: How much of the politicization of COVID-19 is a Democratic/Republican thing that is, former President Donald Trump doesnt think its a big deal, theres a Democratic backlash to that, a Republican backlash to THAT and how much is creeping anti-establishment sentiments in the U.S.? While it still has a strong political connection to the Republican Party's, I believe that it exists on a parallel track to Democrats and Republicans fighting each other.
Ive struggled with what to call the sorta Joe Rogan demographic of COVID-19/vaccine/mask skeptics. There are some Republicans, but not all. Their shit is politically motivated. But it is not always party-political. This question is not covered in many polls.
geoffrey.skelley This is not just a partisan issue. This is again a question about trusting institutions that have played major roles in fighting the virus. Republicans tend to distrust the Centers for Disease and Control and Dr. Anthony Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), who have played a crucial role in advising the Trump and Biden administrations how to manage the pandemic.
sarah Youre on to something, I believe. PRRI's Natalie Jackson wrote an article earlier in the month. It found that Republicans' beliefs about QAnon and getting vaccinated differed based on how they consumed media. Fox News viewers were more likely to have had at least one dose or to get it as soon as possible (54% vs. those who watched OANN and Newsmax (32%).
It seems as though we are talking about an extreme, but not large-ish, portion of the Republican Party who takes a hardcore anti-COVID-19 position. The problem isn't that many Republican leaders/elites have pushed a pro-vaccination message right from the beginning.
Imagine if Trump had decided to get vaccinated publicly. It was Mike Pence, then Vice President, who did it. Trump declined to say if he would get vaccinated. He has since vaccinated, but not on camera. Some Republicans are now urging people to get vaccinated. However, it seems that this is mainly restricted to established Republicans like Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
alex: There are other, more Trumpy Republicans like Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis has done the same. He's not the only Republican governor to encourage vaccinations: Alabama Governor. Kay Ivey spoke out strongly against unvaccinated persons.
geoffrey.skelley : The jury is still out as to whether Republican leaders will keep their public encouragements to get vaccinated. Politicians respond to their base, and a large portion of the GOP base is very anti-COVID-19 vaccine.
Although elites are capable of leading on public opinion, it has been felt that the GOP is more inclined than ever to follow its base.
alex: Geoff, I agree with that. It is too early to know if the pushes for vaccines by GOP officials will have an impact on Americans who are reluctant to get vaccinated. I mean, even Trump couldnt do much.
In March, the CBS News team conducted an experiment to see if Trump or Biden could affect people's willingness to get vaccinated. One important lesson from the Republican side is that Trump's encouragement did not persuade Republicans to say no, but he did seem able to move some Republicans who were still on the fence.
Sarah: It seems like there could be a new backlash, which could complicate the GOP's nascent vaccination push. Because of the widespread spread of the delta variant, some states are looking at reintroducing mask mandates. The CDC suggested Tuesday that certain vaccinated persons wear masks indoors. Republican legislators will likely redouble their efforts to limit emergency powers of governors, and/or limit vaccination mandates that have been implemented by companies and other government agencies. (Gov. (Gov.
maggie.koerth : I am working on a story and waiting for the latest data. However, at least 15 states have proposed such laws as far back as May. These measures have been passed in several states, so it's likely that this is even more.
These laws are both specific and broad in that they address issues people don't like about how the COVID-19 response was carried out. They could also affect emergency powers in non-pandemic situations like tornadoes or wildfires.
Some of these laws already hinder emergency response. Arkansas is experiencing a rapid rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Only 36% of Arkansas residents are fully vaccinated. However, both the governor of Arkansas and local cities are currently prohibited from imposing any masking requirements. Schools boards petitioned the legislator and governor to amend the law to allow them to require masks in schools. On Monday, the governor stated that he would be meeting with GOP legislators to discuss such changes.
geoffrey.skelley - I'm not sure Americans will want to return to being indoors again despite a significant increase in COVID-19 case due to the delta variant. Although we've spoken a lot about vaccine holdouts and those who are hesitant, the majority of Americans received the vaccine in the U.S.A. Most adults are now ready to return to normal. A June Axios/Ipsos poll showed that people are less likely to stay in the house or self-quarantine than last year. This is despite people being concerned about the delta variant.