Pew have published the results of a recent poll (Sep 15th) that contains a few interesting insights. It contains a great deal of detail so I’ll not simply repeat it all, you can get all that directly from them …
- You can find their full 71 page report here (yes really, 71 pages).
- They also have a summary of it all here. “Summary” is a bit of a stretch. It is a set of 4 very long web pages, and is more or less the full report.
My specific focus here is to pick out the one group that has the lowest vaccination rates, then mull over why it is like this.
(Spoiler alert: “evangelicals”)
Before we get into the specifics, let’s first cover the basics by asking these questions – Is Pew reliable, how did they get their data, and what is their key highlight from the survey?
How did Pew gather the data?
They surveyed 10,348 U.S. adults from Aug. 23 to 29, 2021. In other words, this is just a couple of weeks ago, so it is fresh.
Their survey source consists of people who are members of their American Trends Panel (ATP). They recruit them via random sampling of addresses, then statistically tweak things so that they end up with a reasonable representation of gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, and education in the US.
How a publisher of survey data gathers and processes data needs to be very transparent. If such details are not available then alarm bells should ring in your head. Pew are wholly and completely open, so we can see everything. When it comes to transparency, Pew are the gold standard.
They have been in the business of surveys for the past couple of decades, and over that time they have built up a very robust reputation. As a non-profit that has a staff head count of 160+, a budget of roughly $44 million, and no axe to grind, most on all sides of any and every issue, trust their insights.
Key Insight from this latest survey
I’ll simply give you the key takeaway. As I mentioned above, there is a lot of detail behind this …
Majorities say restrictions on activity have hurt businesses, limited people’s lifestyles – but see the public health benefits as having been worth the costs
How many have now been vaccinated?
- 73% of those ages 18 and older say they’ve received at least one dose
In other words, about a quarter of adults (26%) say they have not received a vaccine. With Delta, this is really not good, not just for the unvaccinated because it will find them, but also for the rest of us. It creates a reservoir in which Delta, which is now the dominant strain, can continue to mutate.
Rather obviously, as we are all very aware, the actual vaccination rates vary a great deal from place to place. One of the perhaps most obvious predictors of who has and has not been vaccinated relates to politics …
- 86% of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
- Flip that coin over and only 60% of Republicans and Republican leaners fall into that category.
Blue states having greater vaccination rates than red states mirrors this divide.
Vaccination rates and Religious Belief
The group with the very highest rates of vaccination – Atheist at 90%
The next group with the highest rates of vaccinations – Hispanic Catholic – 86%
The group with the lowest rates of vaccination – White Evangelical, only 57%
For completeness, let’s also take a closer look at the numbers for the political divide. As I mentioned previously, far more Democrats than Republicans are vaccinated. Here is how that breaks down …
There are a couple of interesting details here …
- The more educated you are the more probable it is that you are vaccinated
- The older you are the more probable it is that you are vaccinated – This is perhaps a consequence of the push to vaccinate those most at risk first.
- If you have health insurance then the probability of you being vaccinated is greater – I speculate that this may simply reflect education and employment.
- If you live is a rural area, then the probability of you being vaccinated decreases – This could be partially explained by a lack of easy access to a vaccine.
I really don’t need to tell you how deeply bizarre and truly weird all of this is. Facts are facts, there is a deadly disease, and we now have a vaccine that will greatly reduce your risk of dying. The dead now number over 650,000+ in the US, yet vast numbers of people have been successfully persuaded to doubt the evidence-based scientific facts.
What is going on here, why is it like this?
Pew just reports numbers, they tend not to explain those numbers, so what follows goes beyond Pew statistics.
Humans are fundamentally social animals. As individuals we often identify with a group, a tribe. We associate those outside that tribe as “them”, and feel a bond with those inside our political and/or religious tribe. We adopt and embrace the ideas and beliefs that circulate within the group at an emotional level and not rationally. It becomes part of our personal identity.
If you randomly picked a member of such any group, and asked “Why do you believe X?” (where X is a strongly held belief within that group). They would give you what appears to be a rational reason. If you then debunked that reason very robustly with solid irrefutable evidence, and then asked “Do you believe X?”. They would assure you that they still do. That sounds very strange, until you realise that the reason they presented was not really the reason they believe X. What is going on here is that people embrace political/religious beliefs emotionally and then add reasons that appear to justify it later.
It gets worse.
Criticism of core ideas and beliefs is not seen as a discussion but rather is perceived to be a personal attack. This is because such ideas have been absorbed and have become part of a personal identity. This is why deeply religious people will claim “persecution” when faced with somebody who just explains “I don’t believe that”. The critic might go on to explain that their difficultly is a lack of evidence, but from the viewpoint of somebody who clings to it as part of their identify, it is received as a personal attack.
Vaccines and Religion
As consequence of its right-wing political leanings, many strands of the Evangelical movement have embraced anti-mask and anti-vax as a core belief. Not wearing a mask is for some a badge that identifies them. If somebody within such a group wants to remain in good standing, then they will find that the flow of this prevailing tide nudges them in this direction.
I’m being simplistic … very simplistic. Rather obviously this is not a universal truth, but rather is a social pressure within a micro-community.
Some take a hard stance, and promote anti-vax as a deep truth, and have carried rather large numbers of people with them. As a result 40% of evangelicals have refused the vaccine.
When you talk to them you will find that many present weird and varied reasons. If you then attempt to tackle those reasons by debunking them, what you will discover is that the anti-vax stance remains intact and is immune to factual criticism.
Why is it so crazy ?
The flaw here is the assumption that those that take an anti-vax stance simply lack a bit of information, or have fallen prey to some misinformation. The temptation is the thought you you can fix this with facts.
Because this is not what is going on at all, such approaches will fail.
What we need to appreciate is that when people are faced with a choice between social death or physical death, the need to avoid social death is a very dominant force.
Rationally it makes sense to take the vaccine and greatly reduce the risk of physical death. If however, you are part of a community that is opposed to vaccines, then taking the vaccine would potentially result in social death. They would look down upon you, belittle you, criticise you, turn upon you, or even toss you out and cut you off. To avoid that social death, many are willing to take the risk of physical death.
This is not a reasoned decision, but rather is an outcome that is driven by human emotions, our deep need to be social and to belong.
What can we do if we need to have a conversation?
Understanding what is going on enables you to adopt an appropriate strategy.
Things that will not work include …
- Vigorous debate that involves swamping them with “facts”
- Manipulation – Telling them that they need to care for themselves and others. Advising that if they don’t then they are being bad or wicked.
- Cutting them off – You will simply be seen as “them” and not part of the group. Social bonds are often far stronger than family bonds, hence many families are ripped apart.
So what can you realistically do?
Read the following article.
Karin Tamerius is a subject matter expert who has a great article on Medium that lays out how motivational interviewing really can made a difference – 3 Ways You Won’t Persuade the Unvaccinated
Understanding what is really going on opens the door to having meaningful conversations that really can work. If you engage in a manner that enables them to feel comfortable and listen to their concerns without coming across as a threat to their identity, then it opens a door.
You need to let them come to a conclusion on their own, you job is to simply help in the decision making process.
Don’t dictate answers, but instead draw them out by asking questions. This will help to nudge them into thinking about it analytically. Also empathise with their worries.
Tell them your story.
If you are tempted into thinking that a family member or friend is a lost cause, then hit pause on that thought. You can still make a difference by being a catalyst for change.