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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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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