Analysis: CT towns with lower COVID vaccine coverage voted for Trump

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You are more likely to be vaccinated if you live in a town that voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, with a few exceptions.

You are more likely to be vaccinated if you live in a town that voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, with a few exceptions.

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In Connecticut, the more your town voted for Joe Biden in 2020, the likelier you and your neighbors are to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, a Hearst Connecticut Media Group review of state data shows.

An analysis of all Connecticut municipalities revealed that in the 10 towns that voted the most for Biden, excluding cities with a population over 100,000, an average of 53 percent of their residents have had at least one dose. That compared with 47.6 percent in the 10 towns that voted more for former President Donald Trump.

Thomaston, for example, follows that trend. In 2020, 34.9 percent of the town voted for Biden. As of last Thursday, 46 percent of the town had received at least one vaccine dose. Sterling is another example. Only 33.5 percent of the town voted in favor of Biden in 2020, and 31.33 percent of the town has had at least one vaccine dose.

In Lyme, which has the state’s highest vaccine coverage, 75.09 percent of the town has received at least one dose and 65.7 percent of the town voted for Biden.

There are a few outliers. Mansfield, for example, voted overwhelmingly, 74.9 percent, in favor of Biden, but only 28.37 percent of the population has had at least one COVID vaccine dose so far. This could be attributed to University of Connecticut students in town who did not become eligible for vaccines until April 1.

North Canaan also bucks the trend, with 50.6 percent of the town’s 2020 presidential votes going to Biden and some of the lowest first-dose vaccine coverage in the state at 28.05 percent. North Branford is also an outlier. Only 43.1 percent of the town voted for Biden in 2020, and 58.9 percent of its residents have had at least one dose so far.

Vaccine hesitancy as it relates to political preference is built on a personal sovereignty mindset, according to Wesley Renfro, a Quinnipiac University associate professor of political science.

“It’s important to remember, in the long scope of American history, there is an emphasis on maximizing individual liberty,” he said. “That message is particularly deep in the Republican party.”

The state’s largest cities are also outliers. Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, the state’s three largest cities, had some of the highest percentage of Democratic voters in 2020 and have had some of the lowest vaccine coverage thus far.

Connecticut’s cities deal with issues of access to vaccines as well as hesitancy, according to state Department of Health spokeswoman Maura Fitzgerald.

“For both testing and vaccinations, Connecticut is battling years of health care inequities in our cities, issues faced across the country and around the world,” she said.

Gov. Ned Lamont said during a press conference last week that outside Connecticut’s cities, there is often one town with a high vaccination rate next to one with a significantly lower rate. The difference, he said, was “cultural.”

State Senate Republican Leader Pro Tempore Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said he’s not seeing a particular hesitancy from his caucus or constituents. In fact, he’s been helping people in his district obtain vaccine appointments when he can.

Formica and Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, released a joint statement saying, "We all want to see Connecticut reach herd immunity and the COVID-19 vaccination is the path to achieve that goal.”

“We also encourage all those with concerns about getting the vaccine to seek the input of their doctor and medical professionals — not politicians,” the statement says. “Any medical choice is deeply personal, and we all should rely on the guidance of our trusted medical professionals.”

National polling

A Monmouth University poll of 800 adults in the United States released last week bears out local findings in Connecticut.

There’s still a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the nation, and “much of this reluctance is really ingrained in partisan identity,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a release.

According to Monmouth’s polling, 43 percent of Republicans say they want to avoid the vaccine altogether compared with 22 percent of independents and 5 percent of Democrats.

Monmouth’s polling found that political leanings are a far better predictor than race of whether someone intends to be vaccinated.

A similar proportion of white people, 22 percent, and people of color, 20 percent, said they will avoid getting the vaccine if they can, according to the poll.

“Prior to the pandemic, distrust of vaccines was an attitude that usually cut across party lines,” said Scott McLean, also a political science professor at Quinnipiac. “Since the pandemic, the national survey data shows that white Republican voters are the group most likely to express ‘vaccine hesitancy.’”

Reasons for hesitancy

Though Renfro said “it’s not exclusively Republicans or conservatives who don’t want to wear masks or get vaccines,” there are both historical and recent influences within the Republican party that may have contributed to vaccine hesitancy.

“It’s a particularly American thing,” Renfro said. “There’s this tension between individualism and the role of states and the role of the federal government, and that debate has never really gone away.”

That tension has translated into arguments over market regulation, abortion rights, taxes and, more recently, mask use and vaccines.

“We live in a time in which there is a particular emphasis on individual liberty,” Renfro said.

Trump is the other factor Renfro mentioned as contributing to any vaccine hesitancy among Republican ranks. He said the former president “wanted to make it seem like the virus was no big deal.”

“A lot of his supporters really internalized this,” Renfro said.

Trump, however, should be credited in part for the speed in which the coronavirus vaccines were made available, according to Formica.

“Whether you’re a Trump supporter or not, the vaccine would not be available without his efforts to fund the research to a level that enabled the vaccine to be developed within a very short period of time,” he said.

Poll of Connecticut legislators

Formica and Kelly were two of the Connecticut Republican legislators who, in response to a Hearst Connecticut Media Group inquiry of all state legislators, said they had been vaccinated.

Every state legislator was asked if they had been vaccinated or if they plan to get vaccinated. A total of 44 — about a quarter of the state’s total legislators — responded.

“I’m 63, the world is round, I believe in gravity,” state Rep. Stephen Meskers said when asked if he had been vaccinated.

Only 11 Republican legislators replied, compared with 36 Democrats, nearly all of whom said they either had been vaccinated or had appointments scheduled.

“Now, ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among the political class means that Republican officials are hesitant to announce they are vaccinated, while Democrats are hesitant to say they have some doubts,” Quinnipiac’s McLean said. “Woe to the politician whose vaccination record does not align with the partisan tilt in their district.”

State Rep. Lucy Dathan, D-New Canaan, was the only legislative Democrat who said she hadn’t yet been vaccinated and didn’t have an appointment, because she “just had COVID in February and my doctor said to wait 90 days.”

Of the 11 Republicans who replied, nine said they had been vaccinated.

State Rep. Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, R-Bristol, said in an email that she was “still torn, 50/50.”

“I’m scared of getting sick, and I’m scared of the immediate and long-term effects of the shot,” she said.

State Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, declined to answer the question.

“I’m not interested in disclosing my personal health information,” he said. “I do, however, believe in the science behind vaccines and support the state’s public information campaign as well as all local and state efforts to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to Connecticut residents who decide that getting vaccinated is the right decision for them.”