The American Anti-Vaccine Movement: An Investigation of Populism, Polarization, and Public Policy
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Populism, animated in part by the distrust of elite authority, can be found across the spectrum of American political ideology. From Donald Trump and his “drain the swamp” rhetoric to Bernie Sanders and his denunciations of corporate greed, this contagious, populist skepticism has invaded contemporary American political culture. Unfortunately, this sentiment has also plagued the medical and scientific communities, with government agencies, pharmaceutical industry giants, and experts encountering growing distrust, especially concerning the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Whereas measles outbreaks occur with increasing frequency across the United States and the rates of non-medical vaccine exemptions are rising to dangerous levels, Americans face a veritable public health crisis. This thesis will trace the roots of populism and political partisanship in order to evaluate their influence on the anti-vaccine movement in the United States, with further attention paid to the specific public health risks of and policy prescriptions for vaccine hesitancy.