Poll: Group most likely to say vaccinating children should be optional is ... young adults

It’s a small comfort to know that kids in the future will have mindblowingly awesome handheld devices to distract them when they’re home sick from school with diseases we all thought had been eliminated 20 years ago.

An interesting detail about this poll is that there’s virtually no gap by race. When whites are asked whether vaccinations for diseases like the measles should be required for kids or whether it should be left to their parents, they split 58/33. Blacks split 58/31. There are partisan and gender gaps but majorities in both camps support requiring vaccinations. Men split 52/36 while women split 61/28. Democrats split 70/17 and Republicans split 57/35. (Independents, interestingly, are divided more narrowly at 48/39.) The real action in this poll is by age:


Young adults are also quite a bit more likely to believe that vaccinations can cause autism, splitting 21/59 versus, for example, 3/72 among senior citizens. How come? Could be it’s an ideological thing, with young adults more sympathetic to a libertarian ethic that privileges parental choice over government mandates. If so, though, it would be surprising. Seniors lean right on balance while young adults lean left; it’s odd that the latter group would carve out this particular exception to supporting bigger government.

Alternatively, this could be a case of a privileged group taking its privilege for granted. Sean Davis of the Federalist, summing up the poll results from young adults, tweets, “Immunized herd sees little disease, decides immunizations are, like, really unnecessary and stuff.” Senior citizens remember the days before herd immunity, when you might open the newspaper to find smallpox had broken out in the country’s biggest city. Millennials don’t, and the less educated among them may assume that America’s just kinda always been safe from epidemics because it just has. Related to that, here’s another interesting age-based result from another recent YouGov poll that asked people whether they thought antibiotics could be used to cure the flu. Top row is yes, second is no, third is don’t know:


Not a huge gap, but a gap. When you’re young, healthy, have little experience taking medication, and didn’t grow up fearing a bunch of diseases that have now (for the moment) been vaccinated nearly out of existence, your incentive to study up on these things is less than an older adult’s. (Measles was so rare in the U.S. until recently that even many doctors have never seen a case firsthand.) Young adults are also more likely to spend time on the Internet, where there are endless websites devoted to all species of … eccentricity, so they have more exposure to “alternative thinking” on this subject than older adults do. Combine a comparatively weak knowledge base on this subject with greater exposure to bad influences online and no wonder the anti-vax position among younger adults is, er, infectious.

But maybe that’ll turn around. To great media fanfare, measles cases in the U.S. are now at a 20-year high, a more than threefold increase since 2013. The more the news circulates about anti-vaxers and their sick kids, the more young adults who don’t have a strong opinion on this might change their minds. The Ebola epidemic may have educational benefits too. One of the key points made by scientists about the urgency of containing that disease is that the more the virus spreads, the greater the chance that it’ll mutate into something even more lethal. Anti-vaxers are giving illnesses like measles little human laboratories to produce new strains that might threaten vaccinated kids too. Forget about changing the minds of vaccine skeptics who have strong opinions on this, though: One recent study found that not only is it basically impossible to talk vaccine skeptics out of their position, a public information campaign by the CDC can actually make them less likely to get vaccinated. Which means that the anti-vax view among young adults could be steady for a long time. Gulp.

Exit question: According to a much-praised Hollywood Reporter piece published last year, the anti-vax movement in L.A. that’s produced so many new measles cases is basically a class phenomenon, not an age phenomenon. It’s affluent Hollywood parents who are keeping their kids away from the needle, not the poor. In today’s YouGov poll, though, those making less than $40,000 a year split 51/33 when asked whether children should be required to be vaccinated while adults who earn more than $80,000 split 67/26. How to reconcile all that? Is the L.A. anti-vax phenomenon just some sort of odd upper-class … fad?

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