WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 27: (L-R) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch … [+]
A recent Ipsos/Reuters poll found that 14% of Democrats said they were infected with COVID-19 or knew someone who was infected. For Republicans, this number was only 10%.
While not a huge difference, it’s enough to raise an eyebrow. Why might this number be higher for Democrats? And what political implications might follow? Answers to these questions are explored below.
#1: The difference in infection rate by party affiliation is very explainable.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that more Democrats are infected than Republicans. Looking at the areas that have been hardest hit by Coronavirus, it is the coastal regions of the country (New York, California, Washington, New Jersey, etc.) — areas where Democrats outnumber Republicans. If the disease were centered in the South or the Midwest, it would be a different story.
But there’s another factor at play, and that has to do with the demography of income. Wealthy people, who tend to vote Republican, maintain smaller social networks than lower income people. A 2016 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that wealthy Americans spend 6.4 fewer evenings per year in social situations. Rich people also live in less populated areas. “Social distancing” thus comes more naturally to them which may lower their risk of contracting the disease.
#2: It is likely that differences in infection rates are driving threat perceptions.
Not only are Democrats more likely to say they are infected or know someone who is infected, they are more concerned about the threat posed by the disease. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 41% of Democrats view COVID-19 as a major threat to their personal health compared to only 30% of Republicans. Furthermore, Democrats are more worried than Republicans about the threat Coronavirus poses to the economy, to the health of the nation as a whole, and to their personal financial situation.
Hispanic Americans and other minority groups (who are traditionally Democratic voting blocs) are especially concerned about the threat of Coronavirus, and it just so happens that they report higher than average infection rates. A recent article pointed out that minorities disproportionately work jobs that can’t be shut down (think hospital custodial workers, delivery drivers, and warehouse workers). “Nearly half of black people (49%) and Hispanics (48%) say the coronavirus is a major threat to their own health,” states the team at Pew Research. “Among white people, 30% say this.”
#4: What political implications might we expect to see?
For one, it is Democrats who believe, more than Republicans, that people around the country aren’t taking the threat seriously enough — and they are more likely to agree with governmental efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. For example, 81% of Democrats believe that closing businesses is a necessary step to reduce the spread of COVID-19 compared to only 61% of Republicans. Democrats are also more likely to agree with the cancelling of sporting events, entertainment events, schools, and limiting restaurants to carry-out only.
While everyone is pushing for action to contain the spread of the disease, it is likely that the Democrats will continue to be the most vocal advocates for containment in the weeks ahead. This may change as the virus penetrates the interior of the country.