WHY do Americans think what they think?

A Viewpoint Map distills viewpoints to digestible format so one can calmly consider them without distracting confrontation.

This one explores Americans’ perspectives on COVID-19 vaccines. We’re surveying whether people are confident in, or concerned about these vaccines and why or why not.

With that, now one may:

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Our reporting DOES NOT IMPLY ACCURACY OF THESE VIEWS, nor our support for any of them. This initiative seeks only to understand viewpoints, not to confirm, nor contest them. SOME STATEMENTS BELOW MAY BE FALSE.

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Attributed comments, such as “Hattiesburg resident”, were submitted by survey respondents. Unattributed are paraphrases of sentiment expressed on social media.

People who are CONFIDENT in the coronavirus vaccines cite these reasons:
(ranked according to survey results, click each to EXPAND for detail)

People who have CONCERNS about the coronavirus vaccines cite these reasons:
(ranked according to survey results, click each to EXPAND for detail)

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(updated 17 January 2022)

We wanted to know how many people hold each of the views reported above. Therefore, we conducted surveys to (a) identify the full range of reasons people hold their views on vaccines and (b) roughly assess which of those reasons are most widely shared. The surveys targeted communities representing opposite ends of opinion about COVID vaccines: Hattiesburg, MS, the San Francisco Bay Area, CA and Miami-Dade, FL, during December 2021 through March 2022. Results are shown below.

Methodology details are at bottom. This was not a scientific survey; results are directional, not conclusive and should be considered in the context of broader data sources. We make no representations about their accuracy, nor fitness for any purpose.

With those caveats, here are the final results.

How many respondents had concerns about COVID vaccines?

How many were vaccinated?

For those respondents that had concerns about the vaccine, what were the reasons for their concerns?

For those respondents that had confidence in the vaccine, what were the reasons for their confidence?

What sources influenced people’s opinions on vaccines?

This chart lists on the left panel the various sources of information that respondents reported have influenced their opinions on COVID vaccines. On the right, the bar graphs show the percent of those concerned about vaccines (in orange) and those confident in vaccines (blue) that reported being most influenced by each information source. The sources are ordered by how differently they influenced each group. So, for instance, if an information source heavily influenced the “vax-concerned,” but did not influence the “vax-confident” nearly as much, then it would be at the top, and vice-versa.

What this shows is that the two groups are influenced by very different information sources.

Observations on survey:

  • Conclusions: We published an analysis and interpretation of the results in our blog, ““Vaccine wars”; harbinger of conflict to come?“.
  • The responses shown in the charts are shorthand for the full text choices shown in the summary above.
  • Trusting science versus trusting authorities. A recurring theme, particularly among some of the vax-confident, was their trust in science, as opposed to how scientific results are conveyed by political leadership or the media. Had we observed this nuance earlier in the survey we would have added as a option for being confident in the vaccine, “I trust Science, though not necessarily how it is reported.” Here are a few samples of respondent comments in this vein:
    • I trust in science. Not personalities.” — San Francisco Bay Area resident
    • I trust the experts in healthcare and science. Mainstream media and government should leave it to the experts as well.” — Miami Beach resident
    • I trust science” — Hattiesburg, MS resident
    • It should be abut the science, not the politics.” — Miami Beach resident
    • Whether or not the information is funneled through the federal govt, we need to rebuild trust within science. There is a huge difference between peer-reviewed and repeatable science, and one-off studies that are questionable upon peer review and cannot be reproduced. The latter seems to be where disinformation/misinformation aond politicization of health has latched onto the less reliable side of Science to a) reach the conclusions that support their opinion, while simultaneously b) being used as another example of “why I don’t trust science” while not actually taking the time to identify and condemn the “bad science” aspect that they are trying to share as truth. There is a reason that education and and anti-intellectualism is on the rise. Learning from experiments/studies and evolving our understanding of science is fundamental to the process of eradicating disease. When we condemn intellectualism and supplement it with disinfo/misinfo, we are doing a disservice to our own, and future generations.” — San Francisco Bay Area resident
    • I trust the research from the scientific community and federal agencies involved (CDC).” — Miami Beach resident
  • Ambiguities and inconsistencies among expressed perspectives: Some of the responses can be considered ambiguous due to vague wording of survey response options and/or our failure to provide detailed definitions. For instance, did “vaccinated” mean one or both of the shots in a two-shot regimen? Additionally some responses suggest a lack of respondent consistency that raises questions about influences that may lie yet deeper below those queried. For instance, at the same time many on both sides reported that they relied mostly upon their own research, they denied that they were influenced by many of the sources one might typically use for such research, such as the media, government agencies, healthcare authorities, etc. It seems doubtful they were conducting their own clinical trials, or surveys of scientific literature on Pubmed, so what were the sources of their own research? Had we known so many people relied on their own research, we may have asked that follow-up question. Alas we did not, but the existence of so much “own research” is a meaningful learning nonetheless. Finally, there are situations where it is difficult to parse out whether an odd result reflects the former vague wording or the latter inconsistency. For example, when a respondent asserts that they “distrust authorities,” then cite “healthcare authorities” as a leading influence on their opinions, is that an inconsistency or a reflection of poor survey wording? Honestly, probably the latter. Another learning.
  • Sample size: From a statistical standpoint, the final sample size in Miami-Dade of 141 participants well exceeds the threshold necessary for achieving results with 9% margin of error. Within a community of 2,701,767 residents in Miami Dade County (most recent census, April 2020), with a 95% confidence level one would want 119 responses to achieve a 9% margin of error (see Qualtrics). Sample size in the San Francisco Bay (51) and Hattiesburg (29) areas were insufficient for high confidence that the outcome accurately represented broader opinions in those areas.  However, that was not an objective of the study.  The objective of the study was to better understand opposing perspectives on COVID vaccines by (a) Collecting a complete list of the most common rationales and information influences supporting those beliefs and (b) broadly characterizing which among those were most widely held. The sample sizes were more than sufficient to accomplish those two objectives and indeed, we think all will agree we achieved the primary goal of better understanding the opposing perspectives.
  • Little variation among communities: In the end, the location of the respondents in and of itself was not very educational. Respondents’ views were consistent with others sharing their top-level viewpoint, regardless of the community in which they lived. In other words, San Francisco vaccine opponents had essentially the same rationales as those in Miami and Hattiesburg, and so on.

Notes on Methodology:

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This is an initiative of Project LISTEN, one of the e.pluribus.us programs to overcome divisive partisanship. Learn more about Project LISTEN’s surveys of political perspectives.

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