Exclusive: Conservative media diets tied to distrust in health officials

People who rely on conservative media have much less confidence in key public health institutions and experts, and are much more likely to believe misinformation about the vaccine, according to a new study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Why it matters: The survey finds a widening gap between Americans who trust key health institutions and those who don’t.

The big picture: Trust in key institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, Food and Drug Administration are still high overall. So is overall trust in Anthony Fauci, and overall confidence in the vaccines.

Details: The survey found that in June, 78% of the U.S. public said the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, up from 74% in April.

But the more ideologically conservative that people described themselves as, “the less likely they are to believe that it is true that it is safer to get the Covid-19 vaccine” the study found.

“When you begin to reduce trust in experts and agencies telling you that vaccines are safe, you’re creating all kinds of susceptibilities that can be exploited for partisan gain,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Be smart: The survey also found that a growing number of Americans are becoming susceptible to conspiracy theories about the vaccine.

More than a third of Americans (35%) in June said they definitely believe that coronavirus was created by the Chinese government as a biological weapon, up from 31% in April. There is no evidence to support that theory.”In the presence of statistical controls, those who say they rely on conservative media such as Fox News or very conservative media such as OAN are more likely to believe this conspiracy theory. Those who say they rely on mainstream media are more likely to reject this theory,” the report found.

The bottom line: Experts say misinformation is one of many factors that can lead to vaccine hesitancy, along with a person’s political affiliation, assessment of their own risk, access to vaccines and socioeconomic status.

The new study finds that some of these factors, like a person’s political affiliation and their exposure to misinformation, may be linked. “We know that ongoing exposure to a message that is consistent can harden existing dispositions,” Jamieson said.

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