Study Says Republicans Aren’t Taking Social Distancing Seriously

A year ago, I would have said that even in these polarized times there were some things that would remain nonpartisan. A major pandemic, for example. It’s not as if there’s a liberal ideology vs. a conservative ideology when it comes to defeating a virus.

Time has proven me very, very wrong, of course. These days, conservative ideology is whatever Donald Trump says it is, and since he downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 early on, the rest of the conservative movement has downplayed it too. As a result, Democrats and Republicans are hearing different messages about just how important social distancing and other countermeasures are. A new study quantifies this:

Our empirical results show that partisan gaps in beliefs and behavior are real. GPS evidence reveals large partisan gaps in actual social distancing behaviors. Survey evidence shows substantial gaps between Republicans and Democrats in beliefs about severity and the importance of social distancing. The raw partisan differences partly reflect the fact that Democrats are more likely to live in the dense, urban areas hardest hit by the crisis, and to be subject to policy restrictions—in other words, to face stronger individual incentives for social distancing. Even after controlling carefully for such factors, however, the partisan gaps remain statistically and economically significant. While our evidence does not permit us to conclusively pin down the ultimate causesof partisan divergence, the patterns are consistent with the messaging from politicians and media having played an important role.

The study includes charts showing exactly how big the difference is between Democrats and Republicans, but you can see it more dramatically in a pair of maps. The top map, based on GPS data, shows how much social distancing has changed since January. Blue means it’s changed a lot; red means it hasn’t changed much.

The bottom map is Republican vote share in the 2016 election. Blue represents Democrats; red represents Republicans.

They aren’t quite identical, but they’re pretty close. Trump and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and all of Trump’s other acolytes are probably getting people killed—and it’s concentrated among the people who voted for Trump in the first place. That’s an irony, I suppose, but not one I can take much pleasure in.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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