Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dying for their party?

A few days ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote:

"This echo chamber [conservative media] deluded its believers to the point that it sometimes apparently killed them. During the 2009-10 flu pandemic, right-wing broadcasters like Limbaugh and Glenn Beck denounced the call for flu shots, apparently seeing it as a nefarious Obama plot. The upshot was that Democrats were 50 percent more likely than Republicans to say that they would get flu shots, according to a peer-reviewed article in The Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.  So when the pandemic killed up to 18,000 Americans, they presumably were disproportionately conservatives. "

  He didn't provide a link to the article, but I tracked it down (here it is).  It mentioned that "according to an October 2009 Pew Project survey ....  Democrats were nearly 50 percent more likely than Republicans (60 vs. 41 percent) to indicate that they would take the vaccine."  So the ultimate source of the information was not a "peer reviewed article," but a Pew survey.  That's actually a plus, since unlike most academic researchers, Pew has the resources to obtain a (hopefully) representative national sample for its surveys. The Pew survey apparently didn't ask if people had been vaccinated, but a November 2009 CNN/ORC survey asked "As you know, there are two types of flu today--swine flu, which has not occurred in recent years, and the regular, seasonal flu which occurs every year around this time. Thinking specifically about the vaccine against swine flu, which of the following best describes you personally?...You have been vaccinated against the swine flu. You have taken steps to get vaccinated against swine flu but have been unable to do so. You want to get vaccinated against swine flu but you have not yet taken steps to do so. You have not gotten vaccinated against swine flu and do not plan to do so."

The results:
                                       D              R               I
Vaccinated                     6%            8%           8%
Tried                             18%             9%         13%
Want, no steps           23%           28%        16%
No plans                      51%            54%       60%

There is an interesting difference between the proportion of Democrats and Republicans who said they had tried but were unable to get the vaccine, but there's little difference in the proportion who say that they don't plan to (and it's not statistically significant).  If you look at self-rated ideology, the percentages with no plans to get vaccinated are 52, 56, and 58 for liberals, moderates, and conservatives (and there's no difference in the percentages who said they tried but couldn't).

An ABC/Washington Post survey, also from November 2009, asked "Do you plan to get the swine flu vaccine this year, or do you think you probably will not get the swine flu vaccine?" 8% of Democrats, 6% of Republicans, and 6% of independents said that they already had.  On the other side, 59% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans, and 70% of independents said they probably wouldn't.  By political ideology, 7% of liberals, 8% of moderates, and 6% of conservatives said that they'd had the vaccine; 61%, 61%, and 73% said probably not.   

 So there was probably some difference between Democrats and Republicans intentions to get the vaccine, but it wasn't as large as the Pew survey suggested (which doesn't mean there was anything wrong with the survey, just that there's sampling variation).  Also, independents may have been the most likely to say that they wouldn't.  It's not clear if there was any difference in behavior--there might have been, but the numbers are too small to be sure. 

 There were big partisan differences on some issues related to swine flu.  For example, on "How much do you blame each of the following for problems with getting the swine flu vaccine to all those who would like to get it--a great deal, a moderate amount, not much, or not at all? How about...the federal government?" 29% of Republicans and only 14% of Democrats blamed the federal government a great deal, while 26% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats said "not much" or "none at all."  Republicans were also more likely to say that the threat had been exaggerated.  But there were only small partisan differences in opinions about whether the vaccine was safe (and independents were the least likely to think so).

The reason he was writing about this was that he was proposing that Trump was sort of a Frankenstein's monster produced by the conservative media.  The problem with that analysis is that Trump's major source of support is not hard-core conservatives--they have plenty of other options (everyone else except maybe Kasich).   His appeal seems to be his positions on immigration and protection for American industries and his outsider status.  As a result, his supporters probably have more chance of being persuaded to vote Democratic than Cruz's or Rubio's.  

[data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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