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Experts explain correlation between vaccine status and political ideology

Statistics show the three most vaccinated Wisconsin counties all went blue. The three least vaccinated went red.
Published: Jun. 1, 2021 at 9:37 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Is it fair to assume one’s political ideology dictates how they handle the pandemic? One UW-Madison political scientist says it’s not that simple. The NBC15 Investigates team dug into the data to see if there’s a correlation between vaccine rates and how people voted in the 2020 presidential election.

Does getting a Covid-19 shot then posting a picture make a political statement? Does wearing or not wearing a mask make one too? Motive aside, the pandemic and politics did mix.

“There’s certainly a correlation with how people voted in 2020 and whether they’re getting vaccinated or want to get vaccinated, and you can see it in the Wisconsin map,” says UW political scientist Barry Burden.

NBC15 Investigates look at Wisconsin vaccination rate numbers county by county. Dane, Door, and Bayfield counties have the highest percentage of people with one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. These three counties all went blue in the 2020 presidential election. The counties with the lowest vaccination rates are Taylor, Clark and Rusk counties. All three of those counties went red.

“The bluer parts of the state have higher levels of vaccination, and there’s more mask wearing and social distancing; those things all go together,” says Burden.

Burden sees the correlation in his own research. But he says political ideology isn’t the only factor when it comes to how people are handling the pandemic.

“Republican and Democratic voters just live somewhat different lives. Democratic voters tend to be in more urban or suburban areas, higher levels of education and different types of jobs than someone living in a rural community. And so I think the pandemic was more in the daily lives of Democratic voters’ experiences. If you live in an area where you interact with strangers in the workplace or on the street, then wearing a mask makes more sense, and working from home makes more sense. But if you live in a rural community or a small suburb, you know your neighbors, you aren’t interacting with strangers in big crowded environments. Then concerns about masks and the vaccines will be less,” says Burden.

Todd Newman studies the link between science and society and how that connection dictates human behavior. The politics-pandemic correlation comes at no surprise to him.

“We tend to cluster around others that think like us, that look like us. That’s what we want. We all, whether we are Republican or Democrat, we are biased to the information we receive. We process information in a way that confirms our prior beliefs. We are uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. And I think that’s one of the things if there’s anything that comes out of the pandemic that will be useful is humility,” explains Newman.

There are some exceptions to the red-less vaccinated, blue-more vaccinated trend. Milwaukee county was one of the most democratic leaning counties in the state. It has somewhat lower levels of vaccination rates compared to the statewide average. Burden says that reflects challenges of meeting a diverse, urban population with public health measures, another factor to consider.

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