Tory voters and those living in Tory constituencies seem more likely to be vaccinated than Labor supporters
Does political partisanship affect the likelihood of an individual choosing to be vaccinated against Covid-19? Using data from constituencies across England, Margaryta Klymak and Tim vlandas show that Tory voters and those living in Tory constituencies are more likely to be vaccinated than Labor supporters.
The UK has more than 10 million confirmed cases and more than 145,000 deaths, making it one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Similar to other governments around the world, the UK initially attempted to contain Covid-19 with a nationwide lockdown.
These measures have been shown to be effective in reducing transmission, but vaccination is now the safest and most effective way to contain the pandemic while keeping the economy open. Recently UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new direction on delivering ‘booster shots’ to as many people as possible before the end of the year.
Yet more than 20% of the population is not yet fully vaccinated and there is substantial variation across the country. Understanding the drivers of this variation is therefore crucial: partly to ensure that places where two doses have not been sufficiently administered can receive the attention they need; in part to ensure that existing gaps do not recur with the booster vaccine.
Partisan polarization: what effect on vaccination?
A potential source of notable variation concerns partisan affiliation which corresponds to other ideological and material cleavages. The political science literature has long documented an increased partisan polarization with voters from different political parties thinking and behaving differently. However, we still know comparatively less if and how public health responses can be undermined by partisan divisions. While there is new evidence on how partisanship may have influenced individuals’ perceptions of the pandemic and national lockdowns, less is known about how partisanship affects immunization.
If vaccination rates interact strongly with pre-existing divisions of partisan preferences in societies, it could undermine the ability of governments to effectively tackle the pandemic: some voters may have systematically distinct beliefs, making them reluctant to get vaccinated. , precisely at a time when they are concerted and decisive. collective action is most needed. As a result, there is a risk that partisanship will undermine our public health response to Covid-19, making some individuals skeptical of the need to be vaccinated or worried about the risks of doing so.
Partisanship and vaccination rates in English constituencies
In recent research, we seek to fill this gap by examining the extent to which partisanship is associated with variation in vaccination rates. To do this, we analyzed partisan differences in immunization rates using two separate data sets.
The first dataset contains constituency-level immunization data as of October 2021 which matches the latest general election results in England. Figure 1 below shows the share of votes in 532 constituencies (panel A) and the variation in vaccination rates (panel B). The ridings in red and to a lesser extent in light blue shown on this map show areas where the Conservative vote shares were lower. Comparing voting patterns to vaccination rates shows that constituencies with higher conservative support also tended to have higher vaccination rates from October 2021.
Figure 1: Vaccination and partisanship in English constituencies
To note: This graph shows the share of vote (left) and vaccination rate (right), both expressed in percentage points, in different constituencies in England. Vaccination rates were calculated by dividing the number of first doses in a district by the total population over 18 years of age in that district, then multiplying this ratio by 100.
Figure 2 plots the share of votes (horizontal axis) versus vaccination rate (vertical axis), both expressed in percentage points, in different constituencies in England. A regression line shows the strong positive association: the reported coefficient (0.295 – with a 95% confidence interval between 0.266 and 0.325) suggests that a one percentage point increase in conservative vote share is associated with vaccination rates 0.295 percentage points higher (second doses). Differences in the share of conservative votes account for 42% of the variation in second-dose vaccination rates in England.
Figure 2: Scatter plot for share of votes and vaccination rates in English constituencies
To note: This figure shows the share of vote (horizontal axis) and vaccination rate (vertical axis), both expressed in percentage points, in different constituencies in England.
To what extent is this partisan gap due to confounding differences in socio-demographic and economic differences between constituencies? We find that this partisan effect is valid when controlling for differences in house prices and wages, population composition, constituency health and deprivation, and past austerity.
In addition, our results are also robust to re-running our analysis on vaccination rates for specific age groups, thereby eliminating a confounding effect of demographic differences between Conservative and Labor voters. Conservative votes are associated with higher vaccination rates in all age groups except those under 18 and over 75 for the first dose only.
The second data set is a survey conducted by YouGov comprising five waves collected each week between October and early November 2021. Each wave has between 1,648 and 1,729 respondents and the survey includes variables on votes cast in the 2019 general election. , the way respondents voted on Brexit. referendum, age, number of children, sex, social class and region. Controlling for all of these confounding effects, we still find that Conservative voters are more likely to be vaccinated than their Labor counterparts.
Our results underscore the importance of partisanship in understanding trends in vaccination rates across England. Conservative voters and those who live in Conservative ridings both appear to be more likely to be vaccinated. To what extent is this gap due to material rather than ideological differences? We find that at the constituency and individual level, much of the differences between Conservatives and Labor are absorbed by the socio-demographic and economic differences between the two groups. We interpret the remaining statistically significant difference as evidence of some ideological differences, but can only speculate on its sources: One possibility is that Labor voters are more likely to be wary of the Conservative government; another is differential vaccine availability or ease of access for Labor voters.
Regardless of its source, the direction of the partisan effect contrasts sharply with recent studies on attitudes towards Covid-19, as well as with the US case, where Republicans are less likely to follow social distancing rules, wear masks and get vaccinated than Democrats. . Thus, the UK government appears to be more effective in convincing voters in Conservative constituencies to get vaccinated. But paradoxically, he now faces the opposite problem: in the United States, the Democratic-led government must convince Republicans to get vaccinated, while the British Conservative government will now have to improve vaccination rates in Labor constituencies and among Labor voters.
Note: This article first appeared on LSE EUROPP. Image credit featured: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
About the Author
Margaryta Klymak is a fellow and tutor in economics at Somerville College, University of Oxford.
Tim vlandas is Associate Professor of Comparative Social Policy in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention and Fellow of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.