Though the anti-vaccine hotbeds in the United States are strongest in regions that are overwhelmingly Democratic, a new paper says it may not be Democrats that are most anti-vaccine. Why would they be? the authors argue, when Democrats like government the most.

It's a fair point, Republicans and Independents are least likely to trust government decision-making and historically they were against government efforts like water fluoridation. It is only in the last 10 years that regions like Marin County, San Francisco and Humboldt have turned into 21st century versions of the John Birch Society. For their paper, sociologists did a secondary analysis of the Pew Research for the People and Press survey from October 2009. The Pew institute conducts regular surveys of public opinion, and this survey asked about the willingness of Americans to take the swine flu vaccine. A total of 1,000 people were surveyed. 

When it came to the H1N1 virus in 2009, Republicans and Independents surveyed claimed they were significantly less likely than Democrats to say they would get the vaccine.

But it wasn't their political affiliation itself that was driving Republican and Independent views, said Kent Schwirian, professor of sociology at The Ohio State University. "It's not that Republicans reject vaccination because of their conservative views or exposure to certain media. It was their lack of confidence in the government to deal with the swine flu crisis that was driving their anti-vaccination views."

The survey results found that people trusting the government's ability to deal with the epidemic were almost three times more likely to take the vaccine than were others. The results may apply to the current measles outbreak that started in southern California last year, Schwirian said. The outbreak has been blamed on clusters of people in politically liberal areas who didn't vaccinate their children but Schwirian doesn't necessarily see any conflict between these results that find Republicans were less likely to accept vaccines and current work that finds Democrats who are against vaccine use.

The problem with the new analysis is that it suffers the same plague similar papers defying CDC numbers to rehabilitate the reputation of Californians: it uses survey claims rather than actual behavior. And it used 2009 views on a then-new vaccine for the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, rather than the actual vaccines that are being denied under true philosophical exemptions.

"I believe it is a lack of confidence in government - not political affiliation -- that may unite the anti-vaccination people in our study with those from today," Schwirian said. "Even in our study, about a third of Democrats said they were not likely to get swine flu vaccine and many of those had low confidence in government."

During the winter of 2009-2010, the swine flu was a big deal, Schwirian said. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak the first worldwide pandemic in more than 40 years. In the United States, the virus killed 12,500, hospitalized 275,000 and sickened 61 million.

A vaccine was developed, but during the winter of 2010 the vaccination program became a heated public issue and the number of people who said they would get the vaccine plummeted. Overall, only 50.4 percent of those who participated in the Pew survey indicated that they would take the vaccine. A larger percentage of Democrats (63.7 percent) were willing to take the vaccine than Republicans and independents (both about 43 percent). Nearly 60 percent of those with confidence in government were willing to take the vaccine, compared to 32 percent of those with less confidence.

Those who watched more news were also more likely to want the vaccine. This was likely going to be a factor in 2014 also. When the Ebola media craze was in effect in the autumn of 2014, the progressive elites denying vaccines were likely to be first in line for a vaccine, even though they denied proven medicine. 

When the researchers used a statistical model to analyze the data, they learned that confidence in government was the driving force in vaccination views.

Those distrusting the government's ability were more likely to be older, middle income, politically conservative and less likely to follow media reports about the outbreak.

"Republicans were the most likely to have less confidence in government, so that's why we saw this strong relationship between Republican affiliation and skepticism about the swine flu vaccine," Schwirian said.

That survey didn't ask about participants' trust in science and medicine, which is obviously related to views on vaccines and where California progressives consistently fall behind conservatives. 

Schwirian wrote the paper with Gustavo Mesch, a professor of sociology and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Haifa in Israel.  Published in Health Promotion International and will be published in a future print edition.