Why Some White Evangelical Republicans Are So Opposed To The COVID-19 Vaccine

Two groups are attracting a lot attention in the race to get Americans vaccined: Republicans and white evangelicals. Both are less likely than the other to have been vaccinated and more likely not to be vaccinated.
It is the overlap between white Republicans, and white evangelicals, that is most telling. White evangelical Republicans are the most likely to refuse vaccination in the U.S. A June survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (where Im is the research director) and the Interfaith Youth Core found that white evangelical Republicans were significantly less likely (53%) to report they had vaccinated (or were planning to) than Republicans who weren't white evangelicals (62%). White evangelical Republicans were also the most likely to refuse to be vaccinated (26%), compared to any other large group we surveyed.

It seems obvious that being both a Republican and an evangelical would create a toxic anti-vax stew. This is more important than religion or party alone. However, because I grew up in Texas, I can see this mixture of beliefs every day on Facebook. I am connected to many of my high school and college classmates.

PRRIs 2020 religion census shows that the county in which I was born (Leon), is 72 percent Christian. It also includes 44 percent white evangelical. Election data shows that 87 percent of the county voted to elect former President Donald Trump in 2020. Even though COVID-19 cases rates are higher than ever, just over one third of the county's eligible population is fully vaccinated. Three people from my high school died, and tracking statistics show that at least one in nine Leon County residents has been sick almost as often as New York City (1 to 8), one the most hard-hit areas of the country, and far more than the rate in Washington, D.C. (1 to 13), where I currently live.

The number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise. Americans are pondering next steps. FiveThirtyEight

This is important because Leon County has less than 20,000 residents. Buffalo is the closest city, which is why it is so rural. My high school only has 260 students at any one time. You will need to travel to receive ICU treatment. There are no ICUs available in the county.

What is important about Leon County is not only the low vaccination rate, but also the fact that the residents are often at risk of death from the coronavirus. My classmates who were suffering from COVID-19 were repeatedly urged to pray and make proclamations to God for healing. These prayer requests were transformed into comments when they died.

This belief is fundamental to evangelicalism. Approximately 84 percent of white evangelicals believe that God has control over all that happens in the world. However, fewer non-evangelical Christians share this belief. This poll also revealed that white evangelicals believed more than any other Christian group that God would punish countries for the sins committed by some of their citizens. It also indicated that natural disasters are a sign of God's will. Research from the Journal of Psychology and Theology also shows that many evangelical Christians believe that God will cure illnesses such as cancer.

When I think about the influence of religious beliefs on one's attitude towards COVID-19 or vaccination, I recall Leon County friends and acquaintances. PRRI's March survey revealed that 28 percent (of white evangelical Republicans) agreed that God rewards those with faith who are in good health and will protect them against COVID-19. This compares with only 23 percent of non-white evangelical Republicans. This belief is more in line with white evangelical Republicans' vaccination beliefs. 44 percent of those who believed God would protect them against the virus also stated that they would not get vaccinated. This number drops to 22% among Republicans who aren't white evangelicals.

Further complicating matters, the pandemic fits perfectly into the end-of-the world belief system. According to our March survey, 64 percent of white evangelical Republicans agreed that the current chaos in the United States was a sign that the end is near. It becomes difficult for these believers to believe that vaccines are needed when they are confronted with the belief in the fulfillment of God's will. Sixty nine percent of white evangelical Republicans said that they would not get vaccinated.

Related: Americans Support Vaccine Mandates However, those who have received the jab are most likely to support them. Continue reading. Continue reading.

It is almost impossible to disentangle evangelicals political and religious beliefs, considering how many white evangelicals identify themselves as Republican or lean Republican approximately 4 in 5 according to our June survey. Think about how many white evangelical leaders, such as former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., downplayed Trump's pandemic. Falwell wasn't the only evangelical leader to do so. The pattern of resistance by white evangelicals to vaccination has reached a point where even white evangelical leaders might hesitate to urge vaccination because of the political climate.

The same survey revealed that nearly 2/3 of white evangelical Republicans (43%) and 41% of Republicans overall (41%), stated that they had not gotten vaccinated because the COVID-19 pandemic was overblown.

It's not surprising, therefore, that most evangelical Republicans and Republicans in general disagree with our question about The Golden Rule. This Golden Rule states that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 protects everyone and is a way to live the religious principle of love my neighbor (57 percent and 58%, respectively). It could be that politics and religion are interrelated for many Republicans and white evangelicals. God's will or their interpretation of it controls everything.

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