You have probably guessed it: I am not a fan of Donald Trump (he made several previous appearances on this blog, see here, here here and here). There are many things that I dislike about him, and his attitude towards vaccination is but one of them. Researchers from Australia and from my own University (!) have conducted two studies on this subject which I find extraordinary and important. Here is their abstract:

Donald Trump is the first U.S. President to be on the record as having anti-vaccination attitudes. Given his enormous reach and influence, it is worthwhile examining the extent to which allegiance to Trump is associated with the public’s perceptions of vaccine safety and efficacy. In both Study 1 (N = 518) and Study 2 (N = 316), Trump voters were significantly more concerned about vaccines than other Americans. This tendency was reduced to non-significance after controlling for conspiracist ideation (i.e., general willingness to believe conspiracy theories) and, to a lesser degree, political conservatism. In Study 2, participants were later exposed to real Trump tweets that either focused on his anti-vaccination views, or focused on golf (the control condition). Compared to when the same respondents were sampled a week earlier, there was a significant increase in vaccine concern, but only among Trump voters who were exposed to the anti-vaccination tweets. The effects were exclusively negative: there was no evidence that anti-vaccination Trump tweets polarized liberal voters into becoming more pro-vaccination. In line with the social identity model of leadership, Study 2 indicates that some leaders do not simply represent the attitudes and opinions of the group, but can also change group members’ opinions.

I find this paper so important and excellent that I take the liberty of quoting from the authors’ discussion:

Both studies showed that people who voted for Trump in the 2016 Presidential election were more concerned about vaccines than other voters. When it came to general concern about vaccines, this “Trump effect” was entirely accounted for by the fact that Trump voters are not only more politically conservative than other Americans but also (and independently) more predisposed to believe conspiracy theories. In fact, the tendency for Trump voters to have greater concerns about the MMR vaccine in particular was not explained so much by their political conservatism as it was by their conspiracist ideation.

Study 1 illustrates that Trump voters are particularly prone to anti-vaccination attitudes. Study 2 further demonstrates that these attitudes are not static: it shows that a revered, prototypical ingroup member can actively exacerbate this propensity to endorse factually unfounded beliefs.

One overarching debate about the influence of political leaders is the extent to which they shape supporters’ views, or merely reflect them. Study 2 makes clear that the “Trump effect” is not merely a case of Trump holding a mirror to people’s pre-existing views: his messages have the power to change attitudes. As such, future research needs to
take seriously the impact of Trump as a change-agent, one that is impeding the broader campaign to increase vaccination uptake and to eliminate infectious diseases.


So, the ‘Trump-Effect’ on vaccination attitudes is strongly negative. This leads me to suspect that the ‘Trump-Effect’ on many other issues is just as profoundly detrimental. For the sake not just of public health, let us hope that the US public will dismiss their dangerous president when they go to the ballot in just a few weeks time.

15 Responses to The ‘Trump-Effect’ on vaccination attitudes

  • Interesting article, as an American I feel you’ve touched on something important here. I think you’ve fallen into a trap, too…using the word “conservative” as if any normal, acceptable definition of the word applies…and that’s just not the case. “Conservative,” in the American political landscape, means “hypocritical politician who spends like a drunken sailor, screws anything that moves and only meets with corporate lobbyists…who acts pious while lying to ‘their base’ because that’s what marks are for.”

    I’m not sure you’ve communicated (or grasped?) just how interwoven the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement’ in U.S. culture is with the “the Republican Base” vs Trump himself. Wealthy white Republicans (the lawmakers in D.C.) don’t care about batshit crazy people other than being able to easily manipulate them. Anti-vaxxers are an easily (self) identified group who seek the media…perfect pawns. They are not “conservative,” they are rwnj sheep. Groups like this have been openly courted by the Republican Party for decades.

    Trump, himself, doesn’t care about vaccines. He has an iron grip on a group of vulnerable people, he will react by saying *what he understands them to want him to say* because that’s what has always worked for him…impunity is his unjealous mistress. Giving Trump any more credit than that, attributing any human emotion of concern about how a needle full of stuff injected into a stranger, is really projection. It’s easy to try to humanize, but it serves no positive purpose here.

    Ever since Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party defunded our entire (horrible and degrading) behavioral health system in the 1980’s, it’s been treated as “out of sight, out of mind” in public discourse.

    In fact, the Republican Party has been cultivating a (cult) following of people with unchecked and/or untreated mental illness along with other fringe elements/groups of people with outrageous social/medical positions who are easily manipulated by lying politicians who are playing to their worst inclinations.

    The culture wars thing is though for Americans to wrap our heads around…I can only imagine trying to get it from afar.

    It’s coming to a head, in a very unsafe and ugly way. Keep up the good work.

  • I can’t find my earlier comment to edit/add this thought to, and it’s an important one…Anti-vaxxers are NOT going to stand in line for Trump’s rushed-by-election-day vaccine.

    Nor will the 75% of Americans who do not self-identify as Republican, because we believe in science rather than political deadlines.

    Trump’s weird maybe vaccine will not be consumed by anybody! It’s not designed to. It never was.

    Think about how insane that is.

  • @EE

    You might want to seek out help for your TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) … It’s a real illness, and it’s showing.
    In every case…. self-inflicted.

  • „Pussy grab C 30“ was purely gold, Mr. Ernst, imho! ?
    @RG You should at least admit, when somebody outplayed you. ?

  • Your next article should be on “Trump derangement syndrome.”

    Are you implying that Trump supporters are smarter and more well read about vaccine issues and other issues in general (the so-called “conspiracy theories”)?

  • Curious, why is it that many Hollywood and famous folks are into woo? They are predominantly liberal voters or endorse liberal candidates. Most woo crap is endorsed by famous liberal people, no? I think both main political parties in US are equally represented in SCAM. Personally, conservative and pro vaccine 100%, maybe will wait a year for the next one to come out (Corona) due to fast tracking it. Trump has actually told people to get vaccinated.

    • Trump is no politician and has never been. He is a showman with a serious narcissistic personality disorder. His whole life he has trained the art of bragging and lying to make a good impression. With these skills he managed to talk himself into his present position. If memory serves me, he tried being “a liberal” but “the conservatives” were more receptive to his double-dealing. Whatever he says it will only be what he thinks will improve his ratings. If it happens to be sensible, it will not be because he thinks it is good for anyone else but him. He gives a hoot about truth or knowledge. But worst of all he gives a hoot about the feelings and wellbeing of others.

  • jim,

    Curious, why is it that many Hollywood and famous folks are into woo?

    I think it is a form of selection bias, which works in two ways, the first being that we don’t get to hear about the non-celebrities and the second is that the celebrities who aren’t into woo aren’t newsworthy for it.

  • Derangement 30C… That’s fuel for thought!

    Remedies based on immaterial ingredients seem to be the vogue,as recently discussed.
    How about remedies based on psychiatric conditions and disease? “Psychonosodes” could be the next greatest invention, after grilled sandwiches!
    Just think of the posibilities.
    Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 200C. or Schizophrenia 30C. Just have a patient with the required diagnosis hold a vial of water in his hand while smoking a cigarette and then do the shake-dilute magic on the water and you have the most potent stuff imaginable. I am sure it will be interesting to see all the weird symptoms and dreams the provers enumerate.

  • Glad to see this is being researched further.

    Trump’s antivax effect is lethal

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