Thursday, March 18, 2021


David Leonhardt of The New York Times tells us we're all equally guilty.

Americans on the right half of the political spectrum have tended to underplay the risk of Covid-19. They have been less willing to wear masks or avoid indoor gatherings and have been more hesitant to get vaccinated....

To many liberals, Covid has become another example of the modern Republican Party’s hostility to facts and evidence. And that charge certainly has some truth to it. Yet the particular story with Covid is also more complicated — because conservatives aren’t the only ones misinterpreting scientific evidence in systematic ways. Americans on the left half of the political spectrum are doing it, too.

That’s a central finding from a survey of 35,000 Americans by Gallup and Franklin Templeton. It finds that both liberals and conservatives suffer from misperceptions about the pandemic — in opposite directions. “Republicans consistently underestimate risks, while Democrats consistently overestimate them,” Jonathan Rothwell, Gallup’s principal economist, and Sonal Desai, a Franklin Templeton executive, write.
So both sides do it? Okay, give me some specifics.
More than one-third of Republican voters, for example, said that people without Covid symptoms could not spread the virus. Similar shares said that Covid was killing fewer people than either the seasonal flu or vehicle crashes. All of those beliefs are wrong, and badly so. Asymptomatic spread is a major source of transmission, and Covid has killed about 15 times more Americans than either the flu or vehicle crashes do in a typical year.
I give Republicans a pass for not knowing how COVID deaths compare to vehicle deaths -- I'd have to look up how many vehicle deaths we have -- but everyone should know by now that the virus can spread asymptomatically.

But the most dangerous false belief here is that COVID has killed fewer people than a typical year's flu. This is a bit of disinformation that's spread relentlessly on the right. It's regularly argued that the official COVID death tolls are massively overstated because most of the dead had comorbidities -- as if people who were medically stable while living with diabetes, or after surviving cancer or a heart attack, can't be described as having succumbed to a deadly illness because their health was less than flawless, so they should be presumed to have had one foot in the grave already. The right never applies this to the flu itself, which mostly kills the elderly. On the right, flu numbers are considered to be absolutely reliable, while COVID numbers need to be reduced by any means necessary. This fallacy is central to right-wing COVID denialism, and therefore right-wing public policy.

Now, what do Democrats believe that isn't true?
Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely to exaggerate the severity of Covid. When asked how often Covid patients had to be hospitalized, a very large share of Democratic voters said that at least 20 percent did. The actual hospitalization rate is between 1 percent and 5 percent.

Yes, 69% of Democrats believe that 20% or more of COVID patients need to be hospitalized -- but 51% of Republicans and 60% of independents believe the same thing. Everyone overstates this.

What else?
Democrats are also more likely to exaggerate Covid’s toll on young people and to believe that children account for a meaningful share of deaths. In reality, Americans under 18 account for only 0.04 percent of Covid deaths.
Yes, but there's almost no difference between Democrats and Republicans on this. Democrats think people 24 and under account for 8.7% of the deaths -- but Republicans think the correct percentage is 7.7%. In every age group except the elderly, Democrats' estimates are only slightly greater than those of Republicans.

By contrast, 40.5% of Republicans think the typical flu causes more deaths than COVID, while only 13% of Democrats do. That's a significantly different estimate of the risk from the disease.

I'd like to see a few more questions. Which party is more likely to believe that the vaccines are dangerous? And let's get specific: Which party is more likely to believe that the vaccines contain microchips or nanoparticles intended to control or monitor our behavior? (I think I know the answer.)

Which party is more likely to believe that the pandemic was a planned event cooked up be (a) the Chinese government, (b) Bill Gates, (c) Anthony Fauci, or (d) all of the above? (Again, I think I know the answer.)

If you can find similarly cockamamie ideas on the left, I'll join you in condemning them. But I bet you won't.

And we know from other surveys that there's great vaccine hesitancy among Republicans, particularly Republican men. Are these the same people who reject mask-wearing and tell us who we should take our masks off because "you can't live your life in fear"? Are they the ones now living in fear ... of the vaccine?

Some Democrats get the risks of the virus wrong. Many Republicans deny that there's any real risk at all, except to the elederly and infirm. Democrats know there's a problem, and are trying to help solve it. Many Republicans just don't bother. So both sides aren't equal.

No comments: