Older Americans support getting vaccinated regardless of their politics or the perceived threat of COVID-19

Daniel A. Cox, Samantha Goldstein January 8, 2021

When it comes to COVID-19, partisan attachment continues to play an outsized role in explaining how Americans respond to the pandemic. A recent American Perspectives Survey reveals a stark contrast between Democrats and Republicans when asked about how they would fare if they contracted COVID-19. Overall, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to believe that they would only suffer a minor case if infected. Nearly six in 10 (58 percent) Republicans, compared to 39 percent of Democrats, believe that if they contracted COVID-19 it would likely be a mild case. Republicans are about half as likely as Democrats to say that their COVID-19 infection would be severe (12 percent vs. 22 percent, respectively).  

However, polarization in views is strongest among older Americans. Democratic seniors (age 65 or over) are almost twice as likely as older Republicans to say they would suffer a severe case of the virus — 45 percent vs. 26 percent. In contrast, there are almost no partisan differences among younger Americans. Among young adults (age 18 to 29), Democrats and Republicans are about as likely to say they would contract a severe COVID-19 case (8 percent vs. 7 percent).

It is important to note, partisan divisions among older Americans over the personal risk presented by COVID-19 does not necessary translate into differences in willingness to get vaccinated. In fact, equal numbers of Democratic and Republican seniors (67 percent) say they would get an FDA-approved vaccine for COVID-19. But politics does appear to matter among young adults when it comes to getting the vaccine. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of young Democrats say they would get the vaccine, compared to only 28 percent of young Republicans. 

Given that COVID-19 has been found to be a greater risk for older adults, it is not surprising that young Americans would feel less concerned about becoming infected, but this does not explain the substantial partisan differences among young adults when it comes to getting vaccinated. Democrats’ consistent concern about the public health of COVID-19 may explain why Democrats of every age are more interested in getting vaccinated than Republicans. 

Although, politics has shaped much of public response to the coronavirus outbreak, it does not entirely explain public attitudes and behavior. As the US ramps up vaccinations against the coronavirus, older American, regardless of partisan affinity, are consistently more willing to get vaccinated, while political identity is far more important in predicting the behavior of younger Americans.

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