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How to Convince Reluctant Republicans to Get COVID Vaccines

Photo of Robb Willer

In a polarized nation, a dose of partisan public health messaging can be more effective.

As the number of daily coronavirus vaccinations has stalled, public health experts are no longer convinced that the U.S. will reach herd immunity. In response, the Biden Administration has ramped up its vaccine education and outreach efforts, and is even turning to gimmicks like having businesses offer discounts to people who agree to get jabbed. While vaccine hesitancy among Black and Latino Americans has been declining, it remains strikingly prevalent among one group in particular: Republicans.

In an effort to understand what might sway this large group of skeptics, sociologist Robb Willer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, conducted an experiment with help from colleagues at Stanford, Northwestern University, and MIT to see how vaccine-hesitant Republicans would respond to pro-vaccination messages from partisan sources. The results were revealing: In a preprint paper, Willer and his coauthors found that Republicans are amenable to persuasion by former President Donald Trump and other prominent GOP politicians — but that pro-vax messages from Biden and other Democrats fail to move them.

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