Elite Party Cues Increase Vaccination Intentions among Republicans

Sophia L. Pink, James Chu, James Druckman, David G. Rand, and Robb Willer



Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic requires motivatingthe vast majority of Americans to bevaccinated. However, vaccination rates have becomepolitically polarized and a substantialproportion of Republicans have remained vaccine-hesitantfor months. Here, we explore howendorsements by party elites affect Republicans’ COVID-19vaccine intentions and attitudes. Ina pre-registered survey experiment (N = 1,480), wevaried whether self-identified Republicanssaw endorsements of the vaccine from prominent Republicans(including video of a speech byformer President Donald Trump), from the Democraticparty (including video of a speech byPresident Joseph Biden), or a neutral control conditionincluding no endorsements. UnvaccinatedRepublicans who were exposed to the Republican eliteendorsement reported 7.0% highervaccination intentions than those who viewed the Democratelite endorsement and 5.7% higherthan those in the neutral control condition. Theseeffects were statistically mediated byparticipants’ reports of how much they thought Republicanpoliticians would want them to getvaccinated. We also found evidence of backlash effectsagainst Democratic elites: Republicanswho viewed the Democrat elite endorsement reportedthey would be significantly less likely toencourage others to vaccinate, compared with thosewho viewed the Republican eliteendorsement or the neutral control. These resultsdemonstrate the relative advantage of cues fromRepublican elites - and the risks of messaging fromDemocrats currently in power - forpromoting vaccination among the largest vaccine-hesitantsubgroup in the U.S.