Conservative media use correlates with intent to use ivermectin. to use
Enlarge / Whether you trust this man likely depends on seeing real news.
The US public’s response to the pandemic has been chaotic. Some people have observed strict social distancing, happily locked out when the number of cases rose, and received a vaccine as soon as it became available. Others were almost the opposite, protesting all public health measures and rejecting the vaccine. And much of the population ended up somewhere between the two extremes.
Obviously, there are likely to be several factors at play in such a complex response that can be difficult to unravel. Conservatives in the US, for example, have received anti-vaccine messages from their political leaders, but that adds to a long-term trend of distrust of scientific information.
However, this week has come out some data that untangles these complications pretty well. One study shows that skepticism about scientific information is related to whether people followed health authorities’ instructions to lock them down. And a survey shows that people are more likely to try untested “cures” for COVID-19 when they see right-wing news sources.
Distrust of science
We’ll cover the study first. It tracks the periods that many states implemented on-site housing orders at the start of the pandemic. The timeframe at issue here (March 1 to April 19 last year) was largely before the issue of pandemic control became heavily politicized (at that time, President Donald Trump only began tweeting on April 17 that states should be “liberated”). . In order to track compliance with these restrictions, the researchers received anonymized cell phone data. “Home” was defined as any place the phone stayed during the night to track movement outside the home.
While this is an imperfect measurement, the data shows a clear trend: Throughout March, about 10 percent of phones were left home all day. This was defined as complying with all local housing orders that were pursued at the district level.
The researchers then compared this to a proxy for respect for science: acceptance of the evidence for climate change. They also had access to it at the district level through surveys.
There was a definite loophole. In counties where the acceptance of climate change was above the national average, people stayed at home more often than the average. In counties where this acceptance was below average, the probability that people would find shelter on site was above average. The effect was small but significant, as people in counties where climate change was largely accepted were nearly 10 percent more likely to stay home.
Obviously, this is not a precise measure of attitudes towards science in general, as accepting climate change was politicized long before the pandemic began. The researchers behind the paper adjusted this by only repeating the analysis in counties that Republicans voted, and they found it held (although Democratic circles were still less skeptical about science). There was also no connection with the severity of the pandemic in the district at this time. There was, however, a clear link between the rates of reported face mask use and adoption of climate change, suggesting that on-site protection wasn’t the only pandemic measure affected by skepticism about science.
As an external review, the researchers confirm that this relationship also applies to a non-politicized public health measure: the rates of MMR vaccination. These rates were also somewhat higher in counties with a higher level of acceptance of climate change. So there seems to be a general correlation between the acceptance of scientific information and the willingness to follow public health measures, which is partly driven by politics, but also exerts an independent influence.
Politics and Public Health
The political side of this equation was made clear by a recent YouGov / Economist poll, which shows that Republicans have generally opposed vaccines. About a year earlier, before COVID-19 vaccines became available, a clear majority of self-proclaimed Republicans (59 percent) endorsed vaccination regulations for children. But this year that number was down 13 points; at 46 percent, this is no longer the majority opinion among Republicans. (Support for childhood vaccinations increased slightly among Democrats, but the change was within the survey’s margin of error.)
This is almost certainly due to the persistent anti-mandate messages spilling over among Republican politicians and media representatives. Very few politicians have so far campaigned against vaccinations for children. But if the opposition (currently 35 percent) against these mandates goes much further in their base, opportunists will no doubt begin.
The role of conservative media representatives was highlighted in a second survey by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy. A few issues that might be considered pandemic-related were researched: Opinions on Anthony Fauci and ivermectin use. The poll distributed people based on their selected news sources and grouped them as follows: mainstream, social media, conservative, and very conservative. Examples of conservative media include sources such as Fox News and Breitbart; very conservative sources are Newsmax and OAN.
Much conservative media outlets in recent years have spent time telling infection expert Dr. Attacking Fauci, and that is clearly having an effect. When asked if they trust Fauci, 87 percent of mainstream news viewers said they do. However, among conservative news viewers, the number dropped to about half and applied to less than a third of the very conservative sources.