What’s the most trustworthy source when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine news? Your answer may depend on whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.
A new Harris Poll found that while both Democrats and Republicans consider doctors and nurses as well as nationally recognized hospitals like the Mayo Clinic+ the most trustworthy sources, the two groups diverge when it comes to others.
Seventy-one percent of Republicans trust the White House and President Donald Trump, but only 28% of Democrats do. On the other hand, 61% of Democrats trust the national news media, while only 36% of Republicans do.
When it comes to pharma companies, trust is high among members of both political parties. Overall, 71% of people polled said they trust drugmakers actively working on coronavirus vaccines. Breaking that down by party lines, however, shows more Democrats (76%) than Republicans (68%) believe pharma news.
When asked about all pharma companies in general, regardless of whether they are working on a vaccine, the same 71% overall said the pharma industry is a trustworthy source.
The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also remain highly trusted for vaccine information. That's good news for public health, considering recent incidents of apparent White House involvement in agency decisions raised questions about their independence.
Last week, the FDA and Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., were widely criticized over inaccurate scientific data on convalescent plasma delivered at a joint press conference with Trump. The Harris Poll survey was fielded after that, from Aug. 25-27. Previously, media reports have said the Trump administration pressured the CDC to tighten coronavirus testing requirements and change its guidelines on school openings.
But almost three-fourths of Americans told Harris Poll that they trust both the CDC (73%) and the FDA (72%). There was a gap of about 15 percentage points between Democrats, who trust the CDC at 80%, and Republicans, who said they do at 64%. Similar numbers held for FDA trust—77% of Democrats said they trust the agency versus 68% of Republicans.
“The data gives the sense that Democrats trust science more broadly than Republicans. However, the numbers overall are all still high. So it’s not that Republicans don’t trust them, just less so,” said Harris Poll Managing Director Rob Jekielek.
The highest-ranked sources in the poll were local doctors and nurses, trusted by 88% on average. The well-known hospitals and scientists categories tied for second at 84%.
Democrats and Republicans did agree on their least trusted source—social media. In almost equally small numbers, only 32% of Democrats and 30% of Republicans saw social sources such as Facebook and Instagram as credible. Social media were dead last among the 22 potential information sources Harris asked about.
“People really, really don’t trust social media companies, especially as it pertains to any sort of behavioral or healthcare data. Those numbers are abysmally low, and just reinforce the polarization and the perception of less-than-great practices by organizations like Facebook,” Jekielek said.