- Though the United States overall is experiencing one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, beliefs about how it should be handled are still somewhat split by party.
- As Democrats typically call for caution, many Republicans urge a return to work.
- According to an analysis by the New York Times, that divide is at least partially explained by a real discrepancy: Democratic states have been hit hardest by viral spread and deaths.
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Across the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated a partisan rift.
On the left, many have advocated caution about easing public-health measures too soon. On the right, there are growing calls for the economy to reopen, allowing workers to return to their jobs.
An analysis by the New York Times finds that this political divide may be explained, in part, by concrete facts about how the coronavirus is impacting blue and red regions: In Democratic states, the virus is deadliest and most widespread.
The counties that President Donald Trump won in 2016 have experienced a disproportionately low viral impact, the Times found. Although 45% of Americans live in those counties, they’ve seen just 27% of coronavirus infections and 21% of the deaths.
In April, polling showed that both Democrats and Republicans largely supported extensive lockdown measures, even if they disagreed on how far they should go. But there is some evidence that the unity has splintered.
Stoking anger and resentment, some right-wing figures and media have called the pandemic a Democratic ploy. Earlier in May, Eric Trump said it will “magically all of a sudden go away” after the 2020 election. And a Pew poll found that Americans who relied on the White House for news about the pandemic are more likely to believe the crisis has been overblown.
Anti-lockdown protests have occurred primarily in states that Trump won, too, from Michigan and Wisconsin to Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
In North Carolina, some protesters are so angry about the lockdowns that they have called for the use of armed violence to protect what they say are personal liberties.
“Are we willing to kill people? Are we willing to lay our lives down? We have to say yes,” Adam Smith, the husband of ReOpen NC founder Ashley Smith, said. The anti-lockdown group, which has nearly 80,000 members on Facebook, has staged protests across the state in recent weeks.
Trump country is still hurting from the pandemic
The partisan impact of the coronavirus, and the response toward it, can partially be explained by population density. In highly dense regions, Americans tend to lean left.
Almost one-third of Americans live in the 100 most densely populated counties. In those counties, infection rates are three times higher than in the rest of the country. And in those counties, death rates are four times higher.
In New Jersey, where there are over 1,200 people per square mile, the death rate is 122 per 100,000. In Alabama, whose population density is 94 people per square mile, the rate is 11 per 100,000.
But population density alone does not explain the political boxing match over the pandemic.
Conservative, rural counties — much of Trump’s base — are facing increased infection rates as the pandemic continues to spread, the Brookings Institute found.
“Among new high-prevalence counties from the week of May 11 to May 17, Trump won 151 of them in the 2016 election,” wrote William Frey, a senior fellow at the think tank. “Clinton was the victor in just 25.”
Still, infection rates are highest in the counties that Clinton won, according to the Times. In those counties, the infection rate is above 60 per 100,000. In Trump-supporting counties, that rate is about 30 per 100,000.