8 April 2022
During the start of the pandemic, a 2020 WRAL Investigation showed public service announcements worked in encouraging people to wear masks. WRAL teamed up with local professors to produce the PSAs, and those same researchers then studied their effectiveness.
A Stanford University professor in California saw the WRAL ads and got a similar idea for vaccines. He reached out to the same local professors to come up with a PSA to encourage people to get the shot, particularly those who voted for former President Donald Trump. Data shows that Trump voters are more likely to be unvaccinated nationwide, and many registered Republicans have been outspoken in their resistance to vaccination efforts.
Dr. Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, worked with researchers from University of California-Berkley and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to develop a YouTube ad. “Donald Trump is urging all Americans to receive the Covid 19 vaccine.” the ad says. “I would recommend it,” says Trump.
That ad was targeted to viewers in counties where vaccination rates were low and where Trump had garnered more of the 2020 presidential vote.
“Over 12 million times people saw that,” says Greene when referring to the ad. He says researchers found targeting YouTube users who often searched for Fox News clips appeared to move the vaccine needle. After the ad started running, “Counties that had more Donald Trump ads had more vaccinations,” Greene concluded.
In real numbers, it added up to about 100,000 more vaccinations in skeptical areas. That’s about one shot for every dollar the researchers had in their grant to run the study.
While he agrees the debate over masking and vaccines has become way too political, Greene says playing the politics card doesn’t have to be a negative. “Politics is part of the problem with these differences and politics could be part of the solution,” he said.
Greene says both research projects show targeted PSAs can have an impact and not just with Covid messaging.
“Getting people vaccinated for all sorts of diseases is really important and has public health benefits, so if we can be part of that as political scientists, I’ll be honest, that’s kind of amazing,” he said.
The study on the Trump vaccination ad hasn’t yet been peer reviewed. Greene says drug companies have already expressed interest in the research.