There is a partisan divide on how Americans view the coronavirus pandemic, according to FiveThirtyEight.
While a majority of Americans say they wear masks, social distance and practice mitigation measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, polling and habits indicate there is a divide on how people are handling the crisis based on their political party.
FiveThirtyEight reports that Republicans are much less concerned about the coronavirus than Democrats. The partisan divide on the topic widened between April and June, according to polls the website reviewed.
“Some Republicans are much less freaked out by the virus than they were a few months ago,” Marc Hetherington, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina who is tracking Americans’ perspectives of the coronavirus through a panel survey told FiveThirtyEight. “But things are changing so quickly — these new outbreaks could scare them and maybe some of that polarization disappears.”
According to polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, Republicans have consistently been less likely than Democrats to say that they fear being hospitalized because of COVID-19 or that they might unknowingly spread the virus to others.
Despite the differing opinions, other surveys show Americans are wearing masks, regardless of party affiliation, even though President Donald Trump only wore a mask in public for the first time this month.
“The national conversation about how we behave during this pandemic has been so colored by the partisan divide that it’s becoming impossible to talk rationally about the risks we are and are not willing to tolerate,” said Dr. Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and the dean of the Boston University School of Public Health who studies the politics of public health. “If both sides were pushed out of their corners, they would both have to concede quite a bit, and we’d frankly all be safer.”
Even if Republicans are resisting mitigation measures more than Democrats, FiveThirtyEight reports it is hard to prove that their stance is making the pandemic worse.
Experts say due to factors like unequal testing from city to city, it is hard to compare results from one place to another based on political viewpoints.
Some experts are using cellphone data to track if people are out and about amid the outbreak. But it is impossible to know if people are wearing masks if they are out or what safety precautions they are taking. It is also hard to know if a person, who says they are quarantining, is being truthful when responding to a survey.
According to Rebecca Katz, a professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, mobility data can only tell you whether people are leaving their homes, not where they’re going or whether they’re taking precautions.
“We’re all using this data because it’s the data we have, but it’s imperfect,” she said. “Sometimes, I pack my kids in a car and we just drive for a little while so we can get out of the house — by my cell phone, we’re moving. But that doesn’t tell someone looking at that data if we are interacting with other people, or if we’re wearing masks.”
Data does indicate that people who live in counties that supported Trump in 2016, didn’t reduce their activity as much as people in Democrat-majority counties.
Samuel Scarpino, a professor at Northeastern University who studies infectious diseases, said political polarization can be problematic, even if it is unclear how it is impacting the spread of the virus.
“If politicians’ messaging is making people feel like they’re safe from COVID, those are people who are unnecessarily being put at risk,” he said.
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