Covid’s biased mistakes – The New York Times

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.

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.

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.”

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