Survey: Anti-vaccine views have little correlation with politics

Blogs and social media chatter often paint liberals, particularly Whole Foods-shopping, "earth mother" types, as the lead proponents of the anti-vaccine movement. Yet this view has been contradicted by surveys in the past, and was once again revealed to be flawed by data published this week.

Hand position for vaccination--Courtesy of

The latest data comes from a survey of 2,316 U.S. adults by a researcher who works at the universities of Yale and Harvard. While questions about human-caused climate change divided along political lines--with liberals believing it is happening and conservatives denying it--there was no such correlation with anti-vaccine views. The vast majority of people believe the benefits of childhood vaccinations outweigh the risks, regardless of their politics. And the survey found anti-vaccine views are more common among Republicans.

Although the data clashes with some peoples' perception of the typical vaccine skeptic, it chimes with previous surveys. In 2009 the Pew Research Center found almost 50% more Democrats than Republicans said they would take the swine flu vaccine. More detailed data emerged last year from a Public Policy Polling survey of 1,247 U.S. voters. PPP found 12% of people who described themselves as very liberal believe vaccines cause autism, compared with 22% of hardline conservatives.

What both surveys show is that antivaccination views are held by just a small minority of people. As the Yale-Harvard report puts it, "a very large supermajority believes that the benefits of childhood vaccinations outweigh their risks." The statement is consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on childhood vaccinations--which shows more than 90% of kids receive their shots--but not with what many people think. Most respondents significantly underestimated vaccination rates.

People who were shown an article that exaggerated parental concerns about vaccines before being surveyed underestimated the immunization rate even more than the control group, suggesting the media is playing a role in distorting perceptions. The underestimation of vaccination rates could have implications for public health as other studies suggest people are more likely to contribute to the collective good--in this case herd immunity--if they think others are doing so.

- get the report
- check out The American Prospect's take
- here's the PPP's data (PDF)
- and Pew's survey