COVID-19 vaccine PSA

Research on recently released COVID-19 vaccine PSA featuring past presidents

On march 11,2021, a covid-19 vaccination psa called ‘it’s up to you’ featured four former presidents and their wives. 

Election 2020: First Presidential Debate



Just how likely are Trump voters to take the COVID-19 vaccine when their turn comes up? The Washington Post reported on recent online focus groups designed to understand whether Trump voters are hesitant to take the vaccine. While this research showed qualitatively how people reacted to different messaging tactics created to encourage vaccinations, we took it a step further: using our advanced moment-to-moment dial testing tool, we measured reactions to the ‘It’s Up To You’ PSA (featuring former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, and former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Rosalynn Carter).


Our research confirmed that there is hesitancy among Trump voters to get the vaccine. 20% never plan to get the vaccine, and 21% will not get it as soon as it’s available.

Who Did Better in the Debate Overall

Responses to open-ended questions in the survey indicate why some people aren’t willing to take the vaccine: 

“I want to see how the available vaccines work.  Since there are choices, I want to be able to choose the one that I believe is the most reliable, and safe…so I am waiting, listening and researching results to the best of my ability.”

“Pre-existing conditions prohibit me from taking it.  Regardless, I would not take it anyway.  I do not trust the process AT ALL.”

“I don’t think it has enough studies behind it. How long will the vaccine last?  What are the long term side effects of the vaccine?”


The key takeaway from the referenced focus groups was that the PSA was not convincing, and people didn’t want to hear from politicians – but Mercury’s moment-to-moment dial testing revealed the exact moments in the PSA that made someone more or less likely to get vaccinated.

Republicans were generally positive when the Bushes talked about attending a Texas Rangers game, but turned negative when Barack Obama and Bill Clinton entered the screen.

Looking solely at the focus group results, Trump voters appeared unconvinced by the PSA. However, the dial test results suggest that the PSA had its moments – particularly when ratings improved at the sight of former President Bush, indicating that partisan messaging doesn’t need to be completely thrown out of the playbook.

Q: As you watch this video, we want you to consider if what you are seeing and hearing makes you MORE or LESS likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine.


Another element coming out of the focus group research was that Trump voters seemed to respond positively towards a list of facts about vaccines given by doctor and former CDC director Tom Frieden. We were curious if any of those resonated in particular, and found the following.

For all Trump voters, the following messages resonated the most:

  • “The more we vaccinate, the faster we can get back to growing the economy and jobs.”
  • “Over 95% of doctors who are offered the vaccine take it.”
  • “President Trump recommends people take the vaccine.”


Trump Performance Overall Debate 1


Mercury Analytics conducted an overnight survey including dial-tests of Ad Council’s recent COVID-19 vaccination PSA ‘It’s Up To You’, featuring former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, and former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Rosalynn Carter. This commercial was published on March 11, 2021.

The one-minute-long video featured the former Presidents and First Ladies discussing what they miss most about ‘normal’ life, how the vaccine brings hope of ending the pandemic, and urging everyone to get vaccinated so that the country can return to normalcy.

Mercury’s study tested the video’s performance among a national sample of n=150 Republicans aged 18+. Respondents were first asked a series of demographic questions followed by questions to help understand respondents’ current views on politics in America and their thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine. Next, respondents shown the ‘It’s Up To You’ PSA.

As participants watched the video, they moved a slider just below the video to the right the more likely they were to get vaccinated based on what they were seeing, or to the left the less likely they were to get vaccinated based on what they were seeing.

Before the close of the survey, respondents were asked post-exposure questions to assess their views on the video and their willingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

For more information on Mercury’s dial-testing, click here, and for more technical information about the study, please contact Jordan Kraft or at 202-386-6322 x 322.

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