Israelis Who Support Government More Likely to Get Third COVID Vaccine Dose

A survey commissioned by Haaretz found a correlation between vaccination rates and political leanings; in areas that supported Netanyahu, people were more likely to get the first two doses than the third, while the opposite is true of liberal strongholds

Bennett vaccine
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett receiving his booster shot. Credit: Maya Alleruzzo,AP

In August, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he saw Israelis’ willingness to receive a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as an expression of faith in his government. A survey commissioned by Haaretz found that he wasn’t wrong. After adjusting for socioeconomic factors, the uptake for the booster shot was found to be lower in strongholds for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, and higher in places which support parties in the current government.

In contrast, uptake rates for the first and second doses of the vaccine were higher in places where support for Likud is strong and lower in places with greater voter support for Yesh Atid, Meretz, the Labor Party and Yisrael Beiteinu – four parties in the current government that were strongly opposed to Netanyahu.

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The first and second doses were decided on by a Netanyahu-led government. The booster shot was decided on by the current government, at a time when Netanyahu is the leader of the opposition.

The study was conducted by Dvir Aran, an assistant professor at Haifa’s Technion Israel Institute of Technology who specializes in biomedical statistical research. He said that all of the differences cited above are after the data was adjusted to compensate for the impact of socioeconomic factors.

The first vaccines arrived in Israel in late December 2020. Three months later, most adults had been vaccinated. At this stage – which coincided with an election campaign in which Netanyahu ran largely on his success in procuring the vaccines early and repeatedly urged people to get vaccinated – vaccination rates were higher in communities with many Likud voters.

On July 1, when he was already leader of the opposition, Netanyahu urged Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz to start administering booster shots in August. That was before any other country had done so.

The booster-shot operation began July 29, and Netanyahu himself got the shot on July 30. He wrote two Facebook posts at the time urging everyone to do the same.

After that, however, he stopped urging people to get the booster. Instead, he wrote 36 posts attacking Bennett for his “failure in dealing with the coronavirus” and 10 accusing him of starting the boosters only belatedly.

And at that point, the trend reversed. Places with more Likud voters had lower rates for the third dose, while those with more center-left voters had higher rates.

In places with strong support for Kahol Lavan, which was part of both the previous government and the current one, vaccination rates were roughly similar for all three shots. The same goes for places where Bennett’s Yamina party has strong support, since most Yamina voters also saw Netanyahu as a credible leader.

The one exception to the correlation between political leanings and vaccination rates was in places where support for the Religious Zionism party is high. There, vaccination rates are actually slightly higher for the booster than they were for the first and second doses, even though the party is now in the opposition and bitterly at odds with Bennett.

“All over the world, you see a connection between political leanings and vaccination; Israel isn’t unique in this regard,” Aran said. “But Israel provided an interesting possibility for studying this. It’s a kind of natural experiment, in which there was a significant political change between the first round of vaccination” – meaning the first and second doses – “and the second.

“The results show that political leanings have a significant influence on the choice to be vaccinated,” he continued. “The differences in vaccination rates can’t be explained solely by socioeconomic differences.”

Noam Gidron, a political scientist at Hebrew University who helped Aran with the study, added, “We know that when people identify strongly with a party or a leader, they’re willing to adjust their positions on a great many issues. What’s surprising about this study is that we’re seeing this not just in a survey question that anyone can answer however they please, but in behavior that has such potentially significant implications for health.”

Gidron doesn’t think the lower vaccination rates among opposition supporters – under both Netanyahu and Bennett – stemmed from any desire to sabotage the prime minister. Rather, he said, it’s because people are more willing to heed to the urgings of a leader they trust.

“The trend is so strong among Likud voters because Likud has a very deep identification with its leader that turns the voters into fertile ground for messages,” he added. “This works for positive messages that urge people to get vaccinated, but the effect also exists when these messages simply go unsaid. When Netanyahu isn’t urging people to get vaccinated all the time, they get vaccinated less.”

“The differences in the center-left are also significant,” Gidron said. “I would have expected to see a very small effect, if anything at all, on voters who mostly come from high socioeconomic backgrounds, like many Meretz and Yesh Atid voters. But there, too, we see significant differences in vaccination rates between the first doses and the booster.”

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