A new POLITICO | Morning Consult poll, conducted as part of POLITICO’s ongoing series about the rising anti-vax movement, shows Republican voters are less likely than Democrats or independents to say vaccines are safe for children. It also shows that as many Republicans now say they care more about the risks of vaccines than they do about the health benefits.
The survey results underscore that as the number of voters more doubtful of vaccines has risen — despite scientific evidence that they’re safe and effective — it has come almost exclusively from one political party. While opposition to more established vaccines is still far from a majority position among Republicans, significant numbers question their safety and say Americans shouldn’t be encouraged to get them. And as GOP voters across the country consider whom to nominate for next year’s presidential race, the issue is playing out in unexpected ways in the primary.
Here are four key takeaways from the POLITICO | Morning Consult survey:
Concerns about vaccine safety spike among Republicans
A majority of voters overall see advantages to vaccination, though there’s a large partisan divide on the question.
Among Democratic voters, 76 percent said they “care more about potential health benefits than the potential health risks of vaccines.” But among Republicans, it’s split evenly: 51 percent care more about the potential health risks, while 49 percent care more about the benefits.
Voters overwhelmingly think vaccines are safe for adults, with a combined 86 percent saying vaccines are “very” or “somewhat” safe for adults 18 and older.
But beneath the surface, the differences between parties are stark. Overall, 48 percent said vaccines are “very safe,” including 64 percent of Democratic voters but only 33 percent of Republicans. Nearly half of Republicans, 45 percent, said they’re “somewhat safe” — demonstrating that GOP skepticism around vaccines doesn’t mean all-out opposition.
The parties diverge most on Covid
The chasm between the two parties is widest when it comes to the Covid shot in particular. The overwhelming majority of Democratic voters (91 percent) said Covid vaccines are “very” or “somewhat” safe for adults. But barely half of Republicans (52 percent) said the same.
Only 27 percent of Republicans said the Covid vaccine is “very safe” for adults — while nearly as many, 23 percent, said it’s “very unsafe.”
Republicans are also significantly more skeptical of efforts to encourage vaccination for Covid.
Asked whether Americans should be encouraged or discouraged to get the Covid vaccine, or whether Americans “should be able to make their own decisions” about it “without the input of others,” 64 percent of Democratic voters said Americans should be encouraged to get the shot, but only 26 percent of Republicans agreed. A majority of Republicans, 58 percent, said Americans should be able to make their own decisions without any input, but just 31 percent of Democrats said that.
Meanwhile, fewer Republicans than Democrats said they plan to get the newly released Covid booster shot, which became available earlier this month.
The partisan divide is smaller among parents
The difference between Democratic and Republican parents is smaller than for other groups — but it’s significant and appears to be growing.
Roughly four-in-five parents or guardians of children (79 percent) said they “tend to follow a government-recommended vaccine schedule” for their children, including 86 percent of Democratic parents, 74 percent of Republican parents and 71 percent of independent parents.
The POLITICO | Morning Consult survey is a current snapshot of public opinion on vaccines. Other polls demonstrate the breadth of the movement among self-identified Republicans. In 2016, according to Pew Research Center’s polling, 82 percent of Americans — including 83 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans — said public-school students should be required to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.
But earlier this year, Pew’s polling showed the overall number who thought the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine should be mandatory had dropped to 70 percent, with a large gap between the parties. Democrats held roughly steady over the seven-year period, at 85 percent. But the share of Republicans who thought the vaccine should be mandatory slid sharply, to 57 percent.
In the POLITICO | Morning Consult poll, respondents were similarly asked whether common childhood vaccines should be required to attend public school — but were offered a third option about whether exemptions should be offered for health and religious reasons. A slight majority of voters, 53 percent, said the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine should always be required, including 65 percent of Democrats, 47 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents.
Vaccine skepticism meets the 2024 campaign
The increased doubts about vaccines among Republican voters come as party leaders flirt with unproven or discredited claims about the shots’ safety. From former President Donald Trump’s unfounded suggestions during the 2016 campaign that childhood vaccines could cause autism, to Ron DeSantis’ administration this month discouraging Floridians under the age of 65 from getting a Covid booster, political leaders in the GOP have tried to tap into the anti-vaccine elements of the party.
DeSantis in particular has sought to make the Covid shot one of his most significant divergences from Trump, whose administration led the vaccines’ swift development under “Operation Warp Speed.” But DeSantis’ attacks aren’t landing so far.
In fact, the Republican voters who are most uneasy about vaccines are more likely to vote for Trump than other candidates, despite his role in developing the Covid shot. A third of Trump-supporting Republicans (34 percent) said vaccines in general are unsafe for children under 18. That’s double the share of Republicans supporting one of his opponents in the primary, only 17 percent, who said most vaccines aren’t safe for kids.
And despite their ambivalence toward the shot, Republican voters hold up Operation Warp Speed as a success of Trump’s administration. Among potential Republican presidential primary voters, 56 percent said the development of the Covid shot was a positive part of Trump’s legacy, while only 10 percent said it’s a negative part of his legacy.
Meanwhile, as evidence that partisanship colors everything, Democratic voters are less likely to describe Operation Warp Speed as a positive part of Trump’s legacy: Just 36 percent said it was, though only 17 percent said it was a negative part of his legacy.
The POLITICO | Morning Consult poll was conducted Sept. 9-10. It surveyed 1,967 registered voters online and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Results for subgroups, like for parents of children under 18 or voters who identify with a particular party, carry greater margins of error.