Anti-intellectualism—a distrust of intellectuals and experts—has had a significant political presence in the U.S. and globally, especially in recent years. Anti-intellectualism drives support for phenomena such as populism, a rejection of scientific consensus, and health and science misinformation endorsement. Therefore, discovering what drives someone to be more anti-intellectual is highly important in understanding contemporary public opinion and political behavior. Here, I argue that a significant and overlooked factor contributing to anti-intellectualism is rural social identification—a psychological attachment to being from a rural area or small town—because rural identity in particular views experts and intellectuals as an out-group. Using 2019 ANES pilot data (N = 3000), original survey data (N = 811) and a separate original survey experiment, I find that rural social identification significantly predicts greater anti-intellectualism. Conversely, anti-intellectualism is not significantly associated with rural residency alone, as theoretically speaking, simply living in a rural area does not capture the affective dimension of rural psychological attachment. These findings have implications for health and science attitudes, populist support, and other relevant political matters. They also have implications for what it means to hold a rural identity beyond anti-urban sentiment, and for understanding the urban–rural divide.
A potential explanation for the U.S. urban-rural political divide is a definition of rural consciousness comprised of three subdimensions: a feeling that ruralites are underrepresented in decision-making (“Representation”) and that their way of life is disrespected (“Way of Life”) – both symbolic concerns – and a more materialistic concern that rural areas receive less resources (“Resources”). However, it is unclear whether these different aspects of rural consciousness predict expected political preferences nationally, or whether they uniquely explain these preferences when evaluated alongside similar symbolic concepts like rural identity and moral traditionalism. We expect symbolic concerns (especially Way of Life) to particularly predict rural support for Donald Trump, Republican partisanship, and conservative ideology. Using a novel survey measure developed and tested across three original survey data sets, we find that only the symbolic subdimensions of rural consciousness positively and significantly correlate with Trump support, while the material subdimension either negatively correlates with Trump support or is not statistically significant. A similar tendency occurs when predicting symbolic ideology, except when controlling for moral traditionalism. Rural consciousness and its subdimensions do not significantly predict partisanship. These relationships hold for all respondents and for rural-only respondents. We conclude that rural consciousness may matter politically along symbolic dimensions, rather than materialistic grievances, for recent anti-establishment political support as opposed to standard left-right measures. We recommend that survey analyses of rural consciousness should separately analyze symbolic and materialistic aspects. Future studies should further investigate traditionalism vis-a-vis rural consciousness and explore non-rural people high in rural consciousness.
Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States will require most Americans to vaccinate against the disease. However, considerable research suggests that a significant proportion of Americans intend to forego vaccination, putting pandemic recovery at risk. Republicans are one of the largest groups of COVID-19 vaccine hesitant individuals. Therefore, identifying strategies to reduce vaccine hesitancy within this group is vital to ending the pandemic. In this study, we investigate the effectiveness of messages from co-partisan sources in reducing vaccine hesitancy. In a large (N = 3000) and demographically representative survey, we find that exposing “Middle-of-the-Road” partisans to pro-vaccine messages from co-partisan source cues reduces vaccine hesitancy. However, for those who identify as “Strong” or “Weak” partisans, we find no statistically significant differences in vaccination intentions when exposed to pro-vaccine messages from co-partisan sources. We conclude by discussing how our findings are helpful for vaccine communication efforts.
As the world continues to respond to the spread of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease commonly known as COVID-19), it has become clear that one of the most effective strategies for curbing the pandemic is the COVID-19 vaccine. However, a major challenge that health organizations face when advocating for the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine is the spread of related misinformation and conspiracy theories. This study examines factors that influence vaccine hesitancy using two online survey samples, one convenience and one nationally representative, collected in the early summer of 2020 during the height of the second peak of coronavirus cases in the United States. Given extant literature on vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy belief, we expect that three factors—conspiracy theory belief, political identity, and anti-intellectualism—have served to reduce COVID-19 vaccination likelihood. Accordingly, across our two independent samples we find that anti-intellectualism, conspiratorial predispositions, and COVID-19 conspiracy theory belief are the strongest and most consistent predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Notably, we also find that partisanship and political ideology are inconsistently significant predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy once conspiracy theory beliefs, anti-intellectualism, and control variables are accounted for in the models. When political tendencies are significant, they demonstrate a relatively small substantive association with COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. We discuss implications for ongoing mass vaccination efforts, continued widespread vaccine hesitancy, and related political attitudes.
Why do rural individuals tend to be more right-wing in the contemporary U.S.? I answer this question by treating rurality as a social identity – a psychological attachment to rural or small-town life that encompasses a particular set of values and worldview. Previous studies on rural identity by scholars such as Katherine Cramer or Arlie Hochschild argue that rural areas’ turn to the right – particularly to right-wing populism - is rooted in socioeconomic class-based concerns and anti-urban resentment. However, using national experimental and survey data, in contrast to the qualitative and ethnographic approaches typically used, I find that rural identifiers are not more likely to be lower- or working-class individuals or to express economic concerns. Further, rural social identity does not significantly differ between racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. In other words, politically speaking the white working class does not equal rural identity, something often and nearly automatically assumed in scholarly and popular accounts. Instead, I argue that the turn to the right has been due to rural identifiers’ intermediate status in the societal status hierarchy. Rural areas perceive a group status-based threat from two different out-groups, which map onto definitions of right-wing populism. The first out-group is experts and intellectuals, who rural residents believe favor lower-status groups, such as immigrants – a second out-group - allowing them to cut in line ahead of rural Americans to gain social, economic and political status. These two out-groups (intellectuals/experts and immigrants) are more likely to be urban residents but not necessarily, complicating the idea of anti-urban resentment being the primary feature of rural identity. In this work, I rely on several sources of quantitative data, including original survey data and experiments collected over three years, as well as data from the ANES (American National Election Studies), the CCES (Cooperative Congressional Election Studies), and county-level data.
Many Americans endorse misinformation about vaccine safety. This is problematic because those who do are more likely to resist evidence-based policies, such as mandatory vaccination for school attendance. Although many have attempted to correct misinformation about vaccines, few attempts have been successful. This study uses psychological correlates of vaccine misinformation acceptance to develop a novel misinformation correction strategy by tailoring provaccine messages to appeal to these psychological traits. For example, people with higher moral purity levels are more likely to view vaccines as contaminating the body, but messages highlighting disease via under-vaccination can use their higher moral purity to push them toward vaccine support. Using a large survey experiment (N = 7,019) and a smaller replication experiment (N = 825) of American adults, we demonstrate that interventions designed to appeal to people high in moral purity and needle sensitivity—two relatively understudied correlates of vaccine misinformation support—can also be targeted to effectively reduce vaccine misinformation endorsement. This study provides a better understanding of the psychological origins of misinformed political and policy attitudes, and it suggests a strategy for combating policy-related misinformation more generally, ultimately boosting support for evidence-based policies.
Context: Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic will require most Americans to vaccinate against the virus. Unfortunately, previous research suggests that many Americans plan to refuse a vaccine; thereby jeopardizing collective immunity. We investigate the effectiveness of three different health communication frames hypothesized to increase vaccine intention; emphasizing either 1) personal health risks, 2) economic costs, or 3) collective public health consequences of not vaccinating.Methods: In a large (N = 7,064) and demographically representative survey experiment, we randomly assigned respondents to read pro-vaccine communication materials featuring one of the frames listed above. We also randomly varied the message source (ordinary people vs. medical experts) and availability of information designed the “pre-bunk” potential misinformation about expedited clinical trial safety.Findings: We find that messages emphasizing the personal health risks and collective health consequences of not vaccinating significantly increase Americans’ intentions to vaccinate. These effects are similar in magnitude irrespective of message source, and the inclusion of pre-bunking information. Surprisingly, economic cost frames have no discernible effect on vaccine intention. Additionally, despite sharp partisan polarization in public vaccination intentions, we find that these effects are no different for Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike.Conclusion: Health communicators hoping to encourage vaccination may be effective by appealing to the use personal and collective health risks of not vaccinating.
Counterintuitively, wealthier countries tend to be more vaccine skeptical than poorer countries. One possible explanation—the Online Accessibility hypothesis—posits that internet access facilitates the spread of antivaccine misinformation, particularly for those lower in scientific and medical expert trust. Another explanation—the Out of Sight hypothesis—is that some citizens in richer countries fail to consider the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases because they are rarely experienced directly. Merging country-level data with nationally representative survey data (N = 149,014) from 144 countries, we find evidence for the Online Accessibility hypothesis. These findings are robust to alternate measures of wealth and modeling strategies.
Scholarly and journalistic profiles of anti-vaxxers – i.e., individuals who are active in efforts to oppose widespread vaccination – suggest that some Americans may identify with the “anti-vaccine” label in order to fulfill social goals (e.g., a sense of belonging in a broader community). This is potentially problematic, as anti-vaxx social identification (AVSID) could imply increased receptivity to vaccine misinformation, and resistance to evidence-based medicine. In a large and demographically representative survey (N = 1001), we propose a novel measure of AVSID, and take stock of its prevalence and correlates. We find that about 22% of Americans always (8%) or sometimes (14%) self-identify as “anti-vaxxers” (activists who support vaccine refusal), and that those who do tend to embrace the label as a form of social identity. We also find that people who score highly on our AVSID measure tend to be less trusting of scientific experts and more individualistic. Finally, predictive validation analyses suggest that – among self-identified anti-vaxxers – AVSID is associated with increased opposition to childhood vaccine requirements. We conclude by outlining how our AVSID measure can be implemented to inform future research on opposition to evidence-based medicine and related public policies.
Purpose To examine whether the adoption of COVID-19-related preventive health behaviors vary in rural versus urban communities of the United States while accounting for the influence of political ideology, demographic factors, and COVID-19 experiences. Methods We rely on a representative survey of 5009 American adults collected from May 28 to June 8, 2020. We analyze the influence of rural status, political ideology, demographic factors, and COVID-19 experiences on self-reported adoption of 8 COVID-19-related preventive health behaviors. Findings Rural residents are significantly less likely to have worn a mask in public, sanitized their home or workplace with disinfectant, avoided dining at restaurants or bars, or worked from home. These findings, with the exception of dining out, are robust to the inclusion of measures accounting for political ideology, demographic factors, and COVID-19 experiences. Conclusions Rural residents are significantly less likely to participate in several COVID-19-related preventive health behaviors. This reality could exacerbate existing disparities in health access and outcomes for rural Americans. Health messaging targeted at improving COVID-19 preventive behavior adoption in rural America is warranted.
Objective The study of vaccine hesitancy identifies parental decisions to delay childhood vaccinations as an important public health issue, with consequences for immunization rates, the pursuit of nonmedical exemptions in states, and disease outbreaks. While prior work has explored the demographic and social underpinnings of parental decisions to delay childhood vaccinations, little is known about how the psychological dispositions of parents are associated with this choice. We analyze public opinion data to assess the role of psychological factors in reported parental decisions to delay childhood vaccination. Rationale We anticipate that parents with certain psychological characteristics will be more likely to delay childhood vaccination. Specifically, we explore the roles of conspiratorial thinking, dispositions towards needle sensitivity, and moral purity; expecting that parents with high levels of any of these characteristics will be more likely to delay vaccinating their children. Method In an original survey of 4010 American parents weighted to population benchmarks, we asked parents about delay-related vaccination behavior, demographic questions, and several psychological batteries. We then developed a vaccination delay scale and modeled delay as a function of conspiratorial thinking, needle sensitivity, moral purity, and relevant demographic controls. We then re-specified our models to look specifically at the predictors of delaying HPV vaccination, which has a low uptake rate in the United States. Results Controlling for other common predictors of hesitant behavior, we find that parents with high levels of conspiratorial thinking and needle sensitivity are more likely to report pursuing alternative vaccination schedules. When analyzing the specific decision by parents to delay HPV vaccination, we find that tendencies towards moral purity and, in turn, sexual deviance are also associated with vaccine seeking behavior. Conclusion Parental decisions to delay childhood vaccinations are an important public health concern that are associated with conspiratorial thinking and needle sensitivity.