Economists at Florida Gulf Coast University found that as the percent of people who voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020 goes up in Florida’s 67 counties, the number vaccinated goes down.
This association between Trump voters and vaccination was the result of a study by FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute. Released Thursday, the study is called “Determinants of COVID-19 Vaccinations in Florida.”
RERI Director and Professor Amir Ferreira Neto said the institute was motivated by numerous opinion pieces in various newspapers that were trying to explain why people were getting vaccinated.
The RERI study analyzes each Florida county for age, race or ethnicity, income and percent vote for Trump. To get at whether people have a hard time with access to vaccines, the report also analyzed things like number of supermarkets, pharmacies and percentage of people with internet access. Those factors did not turn out to have much apparent effect, meaning possibly that they do not really represent ease of access to vaccine.
Percent of people voting for Trump turned out to be the strongest association with the percent of people getting vaccinated in a county — higher than age, income or race.
Median age was a close second.
The study does not mean voting for Trump causes people to not get vaccinated, Ferreira Neto warned. “We are just making a correlation,” he said.
But political rhetoric can be considered a factor.
“We know that vaccination became a very political topic,” he said. That topic includes whether people consider COVID-19 to be a severe disease or issue.
The report concludes: “This result provides additional evidence on the effect of leadership rhetoric and campaign on the willingness and confidence in vaccines during a health crisis.”
Reached for comment, Charlotte County’s Republican Party Chairman Gene Murtha was not persuaded by this analysis.
“I know no one, whether it be Republican or Democrat, who hasn’t gotten vaccinated,” Murtha said. He added that all the Republicans he knows voted for Trump.
“I would think their statistical analysis may be flawed,” Murtha said, adding, “We encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”
Trump’s administration oversaw the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in 2020, and Trump himself was vaccinated, although not on camera like other political figures.
In March, after pressure to speak on the vaccine, he told Fox News, “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it. And a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. But, you know, again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also … But it’s a great vaccine, it’s a safe vaccine, and it’s something that works.”
Political researchers have studied who does and doesn’t get vaccinated, at times associating Democrats with being far more likely to be vaccinated that Republicans. Analyses have segued to evangelical Christians as being less likely to be vaccinated as well as lower income people. Every study looks for more nuance, with a study by the American Enterprise Institute recently asserting people get vaccinated based on peer pressure.
Ferreira Neto said RERI decided to do its study because other studies had not looked at the impact of a number of variables at the same time.
RERI also looked at changes over time, or how factors affected vaccination rates starting in January and changing through May. The full effect of factors such as age and political preferences do not show up in the beginning of the year, because vaccines were restricted to health care workers, and then to the elderly.
Ferreira Neto described the limitations of the RERI study. A sample size of 67 counties is not very big, he said, which limits the strength of the study.
“We know that some people are afraid of vaccine,” he said. “There is no good proxy (variable) for that.”