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There are some people who continue to believe that there is a link between vaccination and autism. See this question for more:

Some claim that the "vaccine denial" viewpoint is correlated with liberal political beliefs, in the United States.

For example, Chris Mooney argues in Mother Jones

So is there a case study of science denial that largely occupies the political left? Yes: the claim that childhood vaccines are causing an epidemic of autism. Its most famous proponents are an environmentalist (Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) and numerous Hollywood celebrities (most notably Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey). The Huffington Post gives a very large megaphone to denialists. And Seth Mnookin, author of the new book The Panic Virus, notes that if you want to find vaccine deniers, all you need to do is go hang out at Whole Foods.

He further defends this view in his blog, but says there is very little polling data to support it.

Have there been any studies that support this conclusion?

Furthermore, is "vaccine denial" in general correlated?

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    There is at least one subgroup of the anti-vaccination movement that likely leans more to the right of the political spectrum: The opponents of the HPV vaccine Gardasil. – Mad Scientist Aug 21 '12 at 9:04
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    From what I see, it's where far right (with their government conspiracy theories) converged with far left (with their corporate conspiracy theories). Also, besides all wackos, there still are non-politics motivated people, who have rational concerns. See for example the Swine Flu affair. The untested H1N1 vaccines were rejected back then for example by Polish Health Minister Ewa Kopacz (M.D.), although mostly on the grounds of pharmaceutical companies unwilling to take responsibility for side effects. – vartec Aug 21 '12 at 11:43
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    Quesitons about beliefs are off topic for Skeptics This is a question about the beliefs of people who hold a belief I think that qualifies it twice. – Chad Aug 21 '12 at 14:29
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    I don't think this is answerable in its current form so I will restrict it to the United States. The political spectrum, and the crackpot vaccine theories, are different from country to country. For the rest, I think the claim can be proven or refuted by citing statistically relevant polls. – Sklivvz Aug 21 '12 at 19:32
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    @Chad: By the time it got to the FAQ, the prohibition was against the belief of individuals. The beliefs of individuals are impossible to truly ascertain. The belief of groups can be successfully approximated with surveys. (These guidelines are, of course, subject to change if people want to improve them.) – Oddthinking Aug 21 '12 at 23:31
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+50

Note: Another broader question about anti-vax opinions and political leanings has been marked as a duplicate of this one: Do 60% of US anti-vaxxers identify as politically liberal?.
My answer here concerns anti-vaccination opinions generally, not only the specific phenomenon of belief that vaccines cause autism. My impression is that autism fears are a smaller fraction of anti-vaccination opinions now than they were when this question was originally asked.


Probably not, but it may depend on exactly what sort of anti-vaccine opinion you look at.

Here are the relevant sources I've been able to find.

Pew (2016)

Here's some information about a Pew Research survey conducted in mid-2016. So far as I can tell, the actual data aren't available. (If anyone else wants to look, this seems to be the May 2016 "wave" of the "American Trends Panel".) But the report says:

Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) hold roughly the same views as Democrats (including leaning Democrats) about the benefits and risks of the MMR vaccine.

and

However, political conservatives are slightly more likely than either moderates or liberals to say that parents should be able to decide not to have their children vaccinated.

The figure seems to be 25% for conservatives, 16% for moderates and 9% for liberals.

There's also an audio interview with someone from Pew which I think is about the same survey; it doesn't give any more information about correlations with politics.

So this shows little difference between conservatives and liberals, but what there is suggesting conservatives are more opposed to compulsory vaccination.

Pew (2014)

Here's some information about a Pew Research Survey conducted in August 2014. This was of young adults only; it shows 34% of Republicans and independents but only 22% of Democrats saying that parents should be able to choose whether their children should be vaccinated. (Larger figures than from the survey above; I guess because of the different population surveyed. The interview above mentions that younger people and parents of young children are more often dubious about the benefits of vaccines.)

So this shows *little difference between conservatives and liberals, but what there is suggesting conservatives are more opposed to compulsory vaccination.

Pew (2015)

Here's some information about a Pew Research survey conducted in February 2015, specifically about views on the safety of the MMR vaccine. 5% of Republicans, 9% of Democrats and 10% of independents said they didn't think the vaccine was safe; the survey had n=1003 so the differences could plausibly be chance; also, there were more "don't knows" among the Republicans. (It doesn't seem like autism worries were a major concern for most of these people, by the way.)

So this shows little difference between conservatives and liberals, but what there is suggesting liberals are more skeptical about the safety of vaccination.

Mechanical Turk

Here's a paper about a Mechanical Turk survey of 367 Americans (important note: Mechanical Turk workers are far from a random sample of the population) asking about politics and vaccines. The researchers found that respondents identifying as liberal were significantly more likely to agree with pro-vaccination statements and to say they'd had their own children fully vaccinated.

So this shows liberals being less anti-vaccination but in a possibly-unrepresentative sample of the population.

Pew Analysis (2017)

Here's an article by someone who's analysed some of the Pew data and says what it shows is that more politically polarized people on either side are more likely to be anti-vax (to about the same extent on each side) but that conservatives are more likely to favour making vaccination optional and liberals aren't. (The author suggests that the latter is because conservatives are more likely to distrust the government generally.)

So this shows little difference between conservatives and liberals, but conservatives being more opposed to compulsory vaccination.

CivicScience (2015)

Here's an article based on a survey apparently conducted by CivicScience — unfortunately I have not been able to find any further information about this survey. It says that about 7% of the ~2300 respondents called themselves anti-vaccine and that 60% of those people describe their political leanings as liberal.

This does appear to show liberals being more anti-vaccination; it looks like it's focusing on a narrower sort of anti-vaccination-ism than most of the other references above.

Paper: "The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science" (2013)

Here's a paper about a range of "anti-science" views which finds that anti-vaccine opinions are positively related with "free-market ideology" but negatively related with "conservatism". The authors suggest that what's going on is, again, that libertarian views go along with wanting to let parents choose.

This may kinda-sorta show liberals being more anti-vaccination together with (one kind of) conservatives being more inclined to oppose mandatory vaccination.

Paper: "Vaccine Risk Perceptions and Ad Hoc Risk Communication: An Empirical Assessment" (2014)

Here's a paper about anti-vax positions from 2014; it finds that "respondents formed more negative assessments of the risk and benefits of childhood vaccines as they became more conservative and identified more strongly with the Republican Party" but that this effect was small. (It also finds that anti-vaccine sentiment is importantly different from other sorts of "anti-science" sentiment and argues that it shouldn't be treated as "anti-science".)

So this shows little difference between conservatives and liberals, but what there is suggesting conservatives are more skeptical about the safety of vaccination.

PPP (2013)

Here's the data from a PPP poll in March 2013 — finally, some actual raw data!. Subjects were asked whether they think vaccines cause autism. When classified by political leaning, the results were nicely symmetrical except that nearly twice as many "very conservative" as "very liberal" respondents said that vaccines cause autism.

So this shows little difference among political moderates, but more skepticism about the safety of vaccination among the very conservative than among the very liberal.


Putting all the above together, the picture that emerges (but remains extremely cloudy) seems to be something like this.

  • Moderate skepticism about vaccination seems to be pretty much non-partisan, with perhaps a bit of a conservative lean.
  • More extreme anti-vax sentiment — the sort that is found among 5-10% of the population — seems to lean liberal, but the evidence for this is poor (small n, surveys with no information to speak of actually released).
  • Where research distinguishes between (1) concern about vaccine safety and (2) opposition to mandatory vaccination, #1 seems to lean left and #2 seems to lean right. (And in the one case where the research distinguished between "conservative" and "libertarian" among rightish views, it was the latter rather than the former that seemed relevant.)
  • Most anti-vax opinion these days doesn't seem to be about autism.
  • -1, but for two specific small but important flaws. Most of your answer very nuancedly mentions that there is a difference between being "anti-vaccination" and "anti-government-mandated-vaccination"; yet the very first two bullet points don't make that distinction at all in your italicized conclusion. Secondly, you did not offer any evidence on a fairly critical factor on this topic: what percentage of those who are in "parents should be able to decide not to have their children vaccinated" camp themselves vaccinate, and therefore should not be considered "anti-vaxxers" in context. – user5341 Nov 26 '17 at 15:10
  • ... if you could correct either one, i'd gladly switch to +1 as it is a pretty good answer overall – user5341 Nov 26 '17 at 15:13
  • @user5341 The italicized summaries are meant to be brief. I tried, as you observe, to take careful note of the distinction you mention; I don't think my answer would be improved by encumbering those super-brief summaries with those details. (To be really careful, it would be nice to distinguish more clearly between different notions of "conservative", which in current US politics is a sort of hybrid of "social conservative" and "libertarian" and various other things, which don't all influence opinions on vaccination in the same way, and [...continues] – Gareth McCaughan Nov 26 '17 at 16:01
  • ... and between different subgroups on the left, where again there are the scientific-rationalist-technocrat types who are very much pro-vaccination and the new-age-anticorporate types who are more likely to be anti -- but my answer was really long already and the available evidence doesn't really permit making the distinctions that I bet are there.) As for the "fairly critical factor", I agree that it's an important question but the evidence bearing directly on it just isn't there and I'm not going to make it up :-). – Gareth McCaughan Nov 26 '17 at 16:03
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    I bet the actual situation is: liberal/conservative as such has pretty much zero correlation with opinions on vaccination; libertarianism and anti-government sentiment make people more likely to oppose mandatory vaccination; anti-government sentiment, anti-corporate sentiment and skepticism about science make people more likely to suspect vaccination is harmful on balance. Put those together and you get pretty much the picture painted by the evidence. But more or less every part of the above is conjecture and doesn't belong in an answer here. – Gareth McCaughan Nov 26 '17 at 16:06
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Despite the huge amount of debate on this subject, there is very little hard data to back it up. The only two polls I have been able to uncover are referred to in this blog.

In late 2009, USA Today/Gallup asked a question about Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax views: Did Jenny McCarthy’s statements (she believes her son developed autism after getting a common childhood vaccine) make you more likely to question the safety of vaccines for children, or did her statements not make you more likely to question the safety of childhood vaccines?

These results basically suggest that there’s little or no political divide in terms of who falls for Jenny McCarthy’s misinformation. Notably, liberals were somewhat more aware of her claims and yet, nevertheless, were least likely to listen to them. But not by a huge margin or anything.

In a Pew poll that year that sought to differentiate between the views of scientists and average Americans of a variety of issues, people were asked whether childhood vaccines ought to be required, or if instead it should be left up to parental choice. [...] What’s interesting here is that Pew also provided a political breakdown of the results, and there was simply no difference between Democrats and Republicans. 71 % of members of both parties said childhood vaccinations should be required, while 26 % of Republicans and 27 % of Democrats said parents should decide. (Independents were slightly worse: 67 % said vaccinations should be required, while 30 % favored parental choice.)

TL;DR The only available data says that vaccine denial is not correlated with left-wing views.

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    The poll only asks if you are more less or the same about believing after hearing her statements. Not what they actually believed. – Chad Aug 23 '12 at 13:02

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