One of the intriguing reports to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is the partisan divide — not just among lawmakers — but even rank and file voters. Recent polls have consistently shown that Republicans are less concerned about the coronavirus than Democrats. In an Axios/Survey Monkey poll, Democrats (47 percent) thought the virus could easily spread compared to Republicans (34 percent). According to a USA Today/Ipsos Poll, Democrats are more likely to wash their hands (63 percent) than Republicans (48%). And a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 79 percent of Democrats say the worst is yet to come, versus 40 percent of Republicans.
The influence of conservative media has been widely blamed for the political split, prompting cringe-worthy accusations including the one from Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, who said that more Republicans could die from the virus because the conservative news media was downplaying the pandemic to support President Trump. This doesn’t necessarily bear out if you look at the composition of Fox News’ audience for example. Polling firm Public Opinion Strategies found that while the Fox News’ audience is composed of 53 percent Republicans, roughly the other half is composed of Democrats (23 percent) and Independents (23 percent). Along ideological lines, the poll found that the cable news outlet’s audience is composed of 55 percent conservatives, 30 percent moderates, and 12 percent liberals.
More likely, the political divide is related to where the virus has spread the most. According to the Washington Post, three-quarters of the confirmed cases are in states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and about half are in New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S. Even factoring out New York, the Post reports that the distribution of confirmed cases still shows that blue states, which often are more heavily urban and populous, have the most cases. In fact, looking at the coronavirus hotspots across the nation, New York City, New Jersey, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New Orleans are major Democratic enclaves. Populations in Red State flyover country tend to be less dense, more rural and as a result have fewer cases. It’s these states that have been more reluctant to institute statewide shutdowns.
But I believe there’s another reason – one rooted in deep-seated philosophical differences on governance, freedom, and personal responsibility. Conservatives and libertarians have a natural distrust of government and government power. They place great value on their freedoms and individual responsibility. They loathe being told what to do especially from faceless bureaucracies. Police robots roaming the streets of Shanghai and drones flying over New York City for many conservatives and libertarians are almost as scary as the virus itself.
Progressives on the other hand tend to rely on a strong, central government to function for the good of the people. But if that government is faced for the first time with an unknown, hidden, and lethal enemy like the coronavirus, one can see how their confidence in these governing institutions would be shaken. Adding to that anxiety is a government led by a party that advocates restraints and limits.
Still, despite the nation’s political divide, Right by the Bay stands in awe of the American people’s resoluteness, especially the heroes of this war including the grocery store workers, deliverers, nurses, doctors, and scientists. In the words of a great wartime leader, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Rowena Itchon is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior vice president.