[This article has two co-authors. The first is Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed his own consulting business when IBM downsized. The second is Peter A. Morrison, Ph.D., RAND Corporation Senior Demographer (retired) and President, Peter A. Morrison and Associates, Inc. He is an applied demographer based on Nantucket Island, MA. He graduated from Dartmouth College and holds a Ph.D. from Brown University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: ].
Extending our earlier work exploring the 39 counties of Washington (see article and commentary), we then explored the implications of two research findings and their implications for the U.S. as a whole: (1) Republicans are far likelier than Democrats to believe their home state hasn’t moved fast enough to reopen businesses and ease restrictions; and (2) Democrats are far likelier than Republicans to report wearing masks in public. Adding fuel to the political flames, It also turns out that conservative media misinformation may have contributed to the severity of the pandemic, which, in part, may explain Republican attitudes and behaviors.
As was the case with the article on political orientation and Washington’s counties, we acknowledge that there is a range of plausible demographic factors affecting COVID-19 transmission, infection, and reporting. These factors can include: self-selected participation at protests, presidential rallies, houses of worship or other “super-spreader” venues such as assisted care facilities. Many of these factors may correlate with people’s political orientations, but not necessarily cause or predispose such orientations.
Our logic here stems from political scientists’ reliance upon “homogeneous voting precincts” to discern the favored candidate of one or another type of voter. If 9 of every 10 eligible voters in precinct X have Latino surnames, it’s a sure thing that whichever candidate carried that precinct must have been Latinos’ top choice. By that same logic, heavily Republican or Democratic-leaning counties point to political orientations that may prompt their residents to practice social distancing and wear masks—or not.
We’ve compared the 178 million residents of Democratic-leaning counties (487 counties that Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential election) with the 150 million residents of Republican-leaning counties (the 2,657 counties that Trump carried). Here’s what we found by simply comparing these two aggregated populations:
· April 1st, 2020: Initially, residents of Republican-leaning counties registered far fewer COVID-19 cases than did residents of Democratic-leaning counties (46,356 cases vs. 159,176 cases).
· April 1st -June 15th, 2020: The initial gap eroded, as cases increased by 1,264 percent in the 2,657 Republican-leaning counties compared with only an 815 percent increase in the 487 Democratic-leaning counties.
· April 1st, 2020: Initially, the Democratic-leaning counties had nearly three times the per-capita case-rate found in Republican-leaning counties: 81 cases per 100,000 people vs. 31 cases per 100,000 people, respectively.
· April 1st -June 15th, 2020: As the case-rate gap narrowed, the 487 Democratic-leaning counties registered just under twice the per-capita case rate found in the 2,657 Republican-leaning counties; that is: 817 cases per 100,000 people vs. 421 cases per 100,000 people, respectively.
Many Republican-leaning counties across the country are sparsely populated and isolated, which likely accounts for why they registered very low or even zero case-counts as of April 1st. The 2,225 residents of Garfield County, WA, some 300 miles southeast of Seattle, where population density averages 3 people per square mile, had yet to register a single, confirmed case as of July 1st. This is one of the major reasons the April 1st case count nation-wide is much higher for Democratic-leaning counties: they are far more densely populated. Taken altogether, the 487 Democratic-leaning counties have an average of 321 people per square mile, while the 2,657 Republican-leaning counties have only 46. The denser counties also tend to be on major transportation routes, often serving as hubs.
Despite the low case counts on April 1st, these less densely populated Republican-leaning counties as a whole are now experiencing noticeably higher percentage increases in case counts than the Democratic-leaning counties as a whole. Concordantly, their per-capita case rates have also grown at a faster rate than found in the Democratic-leaning counties. This is remarkable - perhaps even ominous - when one considers the possibilities.
Could the virus now be catching up in many Republican-leaning locales—the ones that never closed down or were hell-bent on re-opening? Are their residents ill-disposed to outside mandates to self-isolate, practice social distancing, and wear masks, possibly due to the misinformation they consume from conservative media outlets? Is parental defiance of truth transmitted to children, placing them at risk? Our findings here support these views as do our findings in two “Democratic states,” California and Washington, both of which were carried by Clinton in 2016 (see article and commentary).
Our take is that political orientation should be considered along with other factors likely to generate COVID-19 cases. So, along with testing and its accuracy, data suppression, potential “super-spreader” venues, population density, rates of interaction, age, race and ethnicity, and gender, we believe that “being Republican,” or being in proximity to them, could be a very real risk factor.