VACCINATIONTrump’s Vaccine Endorsement Moves the Needle on COVID-19 Vaccines

Published 6 April 2022

A team of economists and political scientists that included Stanford’s Brad Larsen ran a large-scale advertising experiment in thousands of U.S. counties showing a video compilation of former President Donald Trump’s Fox News interview recommending the COVID-19 vaccine, leading to a significant increase in vaccinations.

People still skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine can be persuaded to get vaccinated after watching a public service-style announcement featuring former President Donald Trump and his family encouraging voters to get the shot, according to a new study that included researchers from Stanford University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

The researchers created an advertisement that included an interview between Trump and Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo where Trump urged his supporters to get vaccinated. The video, which also included a Fox 13 News Utah broadcaster sharing Trump and First Lady Melania Trump’s vaccination status, was placed on more than 100,000 YouTube channels – including Fox News’ own YouTube channel, where it ran before segments with some of the network’s most prominent personalities like Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and others.

The team found that the ad had a significant impact on vaccine uptake: the 1,000 low-vaccinated counties across the U.S. where they showed the ad had an average of 103 more recorded vaccinations compared to a group of similar counties where the researchers withheld the ad, totaling to an increase of 104,036 vaccinations overall. The findings were released April 4 as a working paper of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Persuading Vaccine-Averse Trump Supporters to Get Vaccinated
Vaccination uptick has faced a political divide, with Republicans lagging Democrats. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that among the 27 percent of American adults who remained unvaccinated, 60 percent identify as Republicans, compared to only 17 percent as Democrats.

“While a majority of both parties are vaccinated, those who remain unvaccinated are largely Republicans, despite messaging from the CDC and medical experts about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Brad Larsen, an assistant professor of economics at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences and a faculty fellow at Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and one of the study’s authors. “We felt like there should be a better way to send a message that would resonate with people on the right.”

Inspired by social science research that has shown partisans follow cues from party leaders, the researchers wondered whether vaccine-hesitant Trump supporters could be swayed to get vaccinated if exposed to a potent message that Donald Trump had received and endorsed the vaccine, a fact the former president has touted on several occasions.