Americans on the right side of the political spectrum tend to underestimate the risk of Covid-19. They were less willing to wear masks or avoid indoor gatherings and was more reluctant to is vaccinated.
These attitudes are part of a larger pattern in which American conservatives are often skeptical of public health scientists’ warnings. climate change, air pollution, gun violence, school lunches and more. In the case of Covid, Republican politicians and members of the media encouraged risky behavior by making false statements about the virus.
For many liberals, Covid became yet another example of the modern Republican Party’s hostility to facts and evidence. And the charge certainly holds some truth. However, the specific story with Covid is also more complicated, because conservatives are not the only ones who systematically misinterpret scientific evidence. Americans on the left side of the political spectrum do the same.
This is a central finding of a survey of 35,000 Americans by Gallup and Franklin Templeton. It finds that both liberals and conservatives suffer from misconceptions about the pandemic – in opposite directions. ‘Republicans consistently underestimate the risks, while Democrats consistently overestimate them,Jonathan Rothwell, Gallup’s chief economist, and Sonal Desai, a manager of Franklin Templeton, write.
The mistakes people make
For example, more than a third of Republican voters said people without Covid symptoms could not spread the virus. Similar shares said Covid killed fewer people than the seasonal flu or vehicle accidents. All these beliefs are wrong, and bad so. Asymptomatic spread is a major source of transmission, and Covid has killed about 15 times more Americans than the flu or vehicle accidents did in a typical year.
On the other hand, Democrats are more likely to exaggerate the seriousness of Covid. When asked how often Covid patients had to be hospitalized, a very large proportion of democratic voters said that at least 20 percent did so. The actual hospitalization rate is about 1 percent.
Democrats are also more likely to exaggerate Covid’s toll on young people and believe that children are a significant part of deaths. In fact, Americans under the age of 18 are responsible for only 0.04 percent of Covid’s deaths.
It is true that some of these misperceptions reflect the fact that most people are not epidemiologists and that it is difficult to estimate medical statistics. The mistakes are still related to behavior in the real world, Rothwell told me.
Underestimating Republicans’ Covid risks helps explain their resistance to a mask – even though it could save their own lives or the lives of a family member. And the Democrats’ overestimation of the risks explains why so many accepted school closures – despite the damage done to children, lost learning, lost social connections and, in the case of poorer children, missed meals.
The states with most closed schools are all blue states: California, Oregon, Maryland, New Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada, Massachusetts and New Jersey. “I think it’s in a lot of ways based on the fact that these voters are misinformed about the risks to young people and that they’re generally misinformed about the risks,” Rothwell said.
Information can help
The reasons for these ideological prejudices are not entirely clear, but they are not shocking. Conservatives tend to be more hostile to behavioral restrictions and scientific research. And liberals sometimes respond to social problems. (A classic example was the overcrowding terror of the 1960s and ’70s, when people on the left wrongly predicted that the world’s food would run out.)
Covid, of course, represents a real crisis, one that has already killed more than half a million Americans and continues to kill more than 1,000 a day. As in the case of many crises, underreaction was the biggest problem with Covid – but it was not the only problem.
Perhaps the best news from the Gallup survey was that some people were willing to reconsider their beliefs when they received new information. Republicans took the pandemic more seriously after being told that the number of new cases is increasing, and that Democrats are more favorable to personal schooling after hearing that the U.S. Academy of Pediatrics supports it.
“It’s very encouraging,” Rothwell told me. “It’s discouraging that people did not know it yet.”
THE LATEST NEWS
Long outstanding: In 1957, Betty Diamond reviewed a collection of Paul Bunyan stories from her local library. She returned it last month.
Lived: James Levine was the lead maestro of the Metropolitan Opera in New York for more than 40 years, until allegations of sexual abuse ended his career in 2017. He died at 77.
ART AND IDEA
Pop music’s evolving sound
Most pop songs since the sixties follow roughly the same structure: the opening verse introduces the scene and builds to a climax with the chorus. From there, repeat it.
It is now being raised, as Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding, co-presenters of the music podcast ‘Switched On Pop’, write in The Times. Many hits since the 2010s have eluded the catchy, rigid structure for something wilder and less predictable. In their article, these changes are visualized by mapping the structure of pop hits from Billie Holiday to Billie Eilish.
Part of the reason for the move to less predictability: With the rise of social media platforms and music streaming services like Spotify, songs now have more competition for people’s attention. Many artists want to get to the “hook” of a song faster, with a variety of catchy sections – rather than one repetitive chorus – to get people listening.
Streaming also encouraged pop music to get shorter, partly because people can easily shoot around. The average number 1 hit now beats just over three minutes, almost a full minute from the early 2000s. The new brevity is something of a return to the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
Make saw paneer, an Indian dish with spinach (or other dark greens) and spices. Check out the most popular recipes on the Instagram account of NYT Cooking.
What to read
In Brontez Purnell’s new book, “100 Boyfriends,” a revolving role narrators share stories about desire and sadness. The critic Parul Sehgal calls it a ‘hurricane’.
They are embraceable, they are collectible and they take it over: Meet Squishmallows.
The host got serious about the shooting in Atlanta.
Now time to play
The pangrams of yesterday’s Spelling Bee were auditing, scary and flood. Here’s a puzzle from today – or you can play online.