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Vaccinations can tell us something about voting.
The key finding is the better a state has been vaccinated, the more likely it is to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate.
Digging a little deeper into the data may even show which states are likely to influence, if not downright determine, the outcome of the next presidential election. This could make political pundits look good.
President Joe Biden has made fighting the coronavirus the centerpiece of his first few months in office. While Donald Trump was the big-time spender who successfully poured public funding into vaccine development, Biden has led the largely successful effort to get shots into arms.
Biden had wanted 70 percent of the eligible population to get at least one shot by July 4, but came up short. If people who outright refused shots are added to the takers, Biden probably contacted his target.
Somewhat overlooked in his near miss was the fact that 20 states and D.C. have more than 50 percent of their population fully vaccinated. That group of states turns out to include the Democrats’ presidential election core.
To pick the most loyal Democratic states, we can look at how states voted in the last three presidential elections – 2012 Barack Obama (D) beats Mitt Romney (R), 2016 Trump (R) beats Hillary Clinton (D), and 2020 Biden (D) beats Trump (R).
On July 4, 17 states and D.C. had more than half of their populations fully vaccinated plus had cast their electoral vote each time for the Democratic candidate. Maine added at least three of its four votes each time. This group accounts for 206 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a presidential election.
It’s impossible to know the party affiliation of the vaccinated in these states. But these are states where many people clearly favor public health over worries that government is too big. They seem to accept the advice of Biden and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get vaccinated.
Not one state in which a majority of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated has voted for the Republican presidential candidate more than once in the three past elections. In all loyal GOP states, the vaccination rate is below 50 percent.
Given the partisan vaccination split, it is difficult to dismiss a relationship between the dominant political opinion in each state and getting or declining a free, government-sponsored shot.
Beyond the core Democratic group, two additional states – Illinois and Nevada — missed the 50 percent rate, but have voted for the Democrat in each of the past three elections. Based on their records, they are likely to continue to vote that way, adding 25 electoral votes.
Three more states, which have a vaccination rate over 50 percent, have voted for the Democrats, but with exceptions. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voted Republican in 2016 and Maine has twice denied the Democrat one vote. If the Democrats picked up these 30 electoral votes, their candidate would still be nine votes short.
These votes would have to come from swing states that had less than a 50 percent vax rate and voted for Biden. They are Arizona (11 electoral votes), Georgia (16) and Michigan (15), any one of which could put the Democrat in the White House.
Here’s some math. The Democrats’ 2024 winning formula: 50 percent vax and loyal/mostly loyal Dems (236) + loyal Dems but less than 50 percent vax (25) + one of three swing states. This “vax-vote index” suggests the election will be decided by Arizona, Georgia or Michigan.
But Arizona and Georgia are among the GOP-controlled states that have passed voter suppression laws since last year’s election. Given Biden’s narrow win in these states, these actions could tip the balance back to the Republicans. In contrast, Michigan was close to 50 percent vaccinated and has a Democratic voting tradition.
While the vax-vote index might also influence U.S. Senate races, which are statewide like most presidential voting, it would be less influential in House district races. That’s because of gerrymandering, which has allowed GOP state legislatures to construct districts favorable to their party’s candidates.
GOP efforts at voter suppression supposedly meant to improve ballot security and House redistricting are openly intended to limit Democratic support. If it gains control of even one house of Congress after 2022, the GOP could restrain Biden.
Meanwhile, Congress is struggling to pass a bill that would overrule some of the GOP state voter suppression moves. In an almost evenly balanced electorate, the success of either party could settle election outcomes for at least the next few years.
As for getting vaccinated, that’s really a matter of personal choice, not major league politics. For personal and public health, vaccination is a well-proven, good idea.