The Secret to Getting Rural Counties Vaccinated: Donald Trump

At 28.10%, Lassen County has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the state. It is followed by Modoc (41.1%), Mariposa (43.2%), and Tehama (43.7%). They are among nine counties with a vaccine rate under 50%. All of them voted for Donald Trump.

Political affiliation has regrettably become a determining factor in acceptance or rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine. Republicans and Trump supporters are less likely to be vaccinated, even though Trump has expressed support for the life-saving shots, which were developed while he was in office.

This tribalism has important implications for public health. A new study suggests the best way to get red voters off the sidelines and inoculated is to show them clips of Trump praising the vaccines.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed. It was released last week as a working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research. The researchers ran YouTube ads of Donald Trump speaking positively about the COVID-19 vaccine in counties with populations of less than 1 million where vaccination rates are under 50%. After the YouTube campaign, vaccination rates went up.

“We find that positioning Donald Trump as a counterintuitive messenger is a cost-effective way to overcome hesitancy among people who still had not been vaccinated, months after the vaccines became widely available,” the researchers said.

“Whether the dividing line is politics or something else, we encourage public health proponents to reflect on messengers whose voices might carry special weight among target populations. For example, other research finds a pro-masking message from a military general increases support for masking among political conservatives. The results we report herein help corroborate this theme. We think it represents a promising route to overcome resistance and, in turn, save lives.”


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