Political Divide Deepens Around the Pandemic
by Audrey Guinn, Ph.D.

  • Political Divide Deepens Around the Pandemic

    The political divide has been a hot topic of conversation for many years.

    Republicans, Democrats, and Independents seem to be drifting further apart and these differences are noticeable not only within political ideology but also within more mundane aspects of life. Decision Analyst’s monthly “Consumer Reactions to COVID-19” tracker1 finds that these divisions exist within beliefs about COVID-19 and the vaccine, feelings surrounding the pandemic, concern about the pandemic, and even comfort levels with gathering in different situations2.
 

Level of Concern About COVID-19 Differs by Political Leaning

Level of Concern About COVID-!9 Different by Political Leaning
Note: Respondents rated their concern about COVID-19 on a 5-point scale.

 

Democrats report feeling more concerned about COVID-19 than Independents, and Independents report more concern than Republicans. About 26% of Democrats report being “extremely concerned” about COVID-19, while 18% of Independents and 11% of Republicans report the same. In addition to lower levels of concern, Republicans feel stronger positive emotions with regards to the pandemic.

Feelings About the Pandemic Differ by Political Affiliation

Feeling about Pandemic Differ
Note: Feelings were listed on a bipolar 10-point scale with positive feelings at the top end of the scale and negative feelings at the bottom end of the scale. The graphs show the percentage of each group (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) who rated their feelings about the pandemic at the top-3 or bottom-3-box level.

 

While negative feelings such as endangered, scared, and frantic do not differ3 across the political spectrum, positive feelings do. More Republicans (44%) report feeling safe than Democrats (34%) or Independents (35%). Likewise, a greater number Republicans (43%) report peaceful feelings than Democrats (31%). Almost half (49%) of Republicans report feeling composed during the pandemic compared with about 4 in 10 (40%) Democrats.

Concern about COVID-19 and feelings about the pandemic also translate into comfort in social-gathering situations. Those who are more concerned about COVID-19 and report feeling less positive about the pandemic are also less comfortable gathering. Alternatively, those who are less concerned about the virus and report feeling more positive about the pandemic are also more comfortable gathering socially.

Gathering Comfort Depends on Political Persuasion

Gathering Comfort Levels
Note: Respondents rated their comfort with gathering in different situations on a 5-point scale. The graphs show the percentage of each group (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) who are very comfortable gathering in the situation listed.

 

Overall, Democrats demonstrate the least comfort gathering in social situations while Republicans and Independents are much more comfortable. Specifically, more Republicans and Independents are very comfortable attending a large concert/sporting event or a large luncheon, going to a bar, and going on a cruise compared with Democrats. The social situations listed in the graph are some of the riskier examples of 26 total gathering situations observed.

Why do Republicans have less concern, greater positive feelings, and greater comfort with social gatherings than Democrats? These differences may be due to the political divide regarding beliefs about the virus.

COVID-19 Attitudes Deepen the Divide Between Republicans and Democrats

Political Attitudes
Note. Positive COVID-19 attitudes are based on 4 items from a 9-item question assessing positive attitudes towards COVID. Negative COVID-19 attitudes are based on 6 items from an 8-item question assessing negative attitudes towards COVID. The light red area in the chart represents the distribution for Republicans and the blue area represents Democrats. The dark purple area represents the overlap between the two. Medians are displayed on the graphs.

 

In general, Republicans agree more with negative COVID-19 attitudes and less with positive COVID-19 attitudes. Democrats, conversely, agree more with positive COVID-19 attitudes and less with negative COVID-19 attitudes. Independents, who are not pictured in the graphs above, tend to have attitudes that fall in the middle.

Democrats agree more strongly than Independents, and Independents agree more strongly than Republicans, with the positive attitudes listed below4:

  • I will continue wearing a mask for some time even if requirements are lifted
  • Double masking is a good idea
  • Public places and businesses should remain closed until the pandemic is over
  • I currently trust the government to make sound decisions related to COVID-19
 

Republicans agree more strongly than Independents, and Independents agree more strongly than Democrats, with the negative attitudes listed below5:

  • COVID-19 is a hoax
  • COVID-19 was released on purpose
  • The government is using COVID-19 as a way to control the population
  • Shutdowns and sheltering-in-place have been imposed unnecessarily
  • Many people lost their jobs unnecessarily due to shutdowns
  • The COVID-19 death rate has been inflated by counting other causes of death as COVID deaths
 

These patterns are also found within beliefs about the vaccine. Republicans tend to be more skeptical about the vaccine while Democrats tend to believe in the vaccine’s efficacy.

Republicans and Democrats Differ on Vaccine Attitudes

Political Attitudes
Note: Positive vaccine attitudes are based on a 9-item question assessing positive attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccine. Negative vaccine attitudes are based on a 10-item question assessing negative attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccine. The light red area in the chart represents the distribution for Republicans, the blue area for Democrats. The dark purple area represents the overlap between the two. Medians displayed on the graphs.

 

Overall, Democrats agree most strongly with positive vaccine attitudes, followed by Independents (not depicted in the graphs above) who tend to have attitudes in the middle, followed by Republicans who agree with these attitudes the least. Listed below are the attitudes where this political trend is noticeable6.

 
  • Every eligible person should get the vaccine
  • Being vaccinated shows I care about others
  • Getting the vaccine is the right thing to do
  • The vaccine will reduce my chances of getting COVID-19
  • Getting vaccinated will reduce my chances of unknowingly spreading COVID-19
  • Every person should be required to get the vaccine
  • Getting COVID-19 is more dangerous than any risk associated with the vaccine
  • Getting people vaccinated quickly will help deter mutations/variants of the virus
 

Conversely, Republicans agree most strongly with negative vaccine attitudes, followed by Independents who agree less strongly, followed by Democrats who agree the least. Below are the attitudes where this political pattern is found7.

  • The vaccine is dangerous
  • The vaccine is being used as a way for the government to track us
  • Being forced to prove I took the vaccine is a violation of my rights
  • Being vaccinated brings severe side effects
  • The vaccine could lead to long-lasting, unknown side effects
  • The vaccine doesn't provide enough of a guarantee that you won't get the virus
  • There are plenty of reasons to be afraid of the vaccine
 

Political Divide Deepens Around the Pandemic

Overall, Republicans have less concern and greater positive feelings about the pandemic and are more comfortable gathering in social situations. This holds true even though Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated. In fact, our data shows that 64% of Democrats, 52% of Independents, and 44% of Republicans have been vaccinated. Although it seems that Republicans are more comfortable with situations that could cause them to contract COVID-19, contraction rates have remained about the same across political parties. About the same percentage of Republicans (15%) have tested positive for COVID-19 as Democrats (15%) and Independents (12%).

The differences in concern, gathering comfort, and feelings may be due to the beliefs held about COVID-19 and the vaccine. It may be that because Republicans are more skeptical about the virus’s legitimacy, death rate, the government’s involvement, and the vaccine’s efficacy, they are less concerned about the virus, feel safer, more at peace, more composed, are more comfortable gathering, and are less concerned about getting vaccinated.

Democrats, on the other hand, accept the legitimacy of the virus and the vaccine. Specifically, Democrats (77%) are more likely to completely agree with the statement “COVID-19 is a deadly virus” than are Independents (56%) and Republicans (37%). Therefore, this may explain why they feel more concerned about COVID-19, feel less safe, at peace, or composed, less comfortable gathering in social situations, and why they are more likely to get vaccinated.

Footnote 1: Data collection for the 17th wave of this tracker began 4/15/2021 and ended 4/19/2021. Demographic variables were assessed as possible covariates in the analyses; however, each variable (age, ethnicity, and gender) was significantly related to the independent variable (political affiliation) and, therefore, independence is violated. This means that demographic variables interact with political affiliation to increase or decrease each of the outcomes reported. This paper only addresses main effects, not interactions.

 

Footnote 2: A Structural Equation Model was performed to understand overall relationships between political affiliation and the outcomes (COVID concern, feelings, gathering comfort, COVID attitudes and vaccine attitudes). ANOVAs were performed as a follow-up to examine specific relationships. All relationships discussed are significant at the 95% confidence interval using Bonferroni corrections for familywise error.

 

Footnote 3: No significant differences were found with negative feelings about COVID with regards to political affiliation.

 

Footnote 4: Democrats agree with these statements significantly more strongly than Independents and Independents agree with these statements significantly more strongly than Republicans.

 

Footnote 5: Republicans agree with these statements significantly more strongly than Independents and Independents agree with these statements significantly more strongly than Democrats.

 

Footnote 6: The list of statements reflects this significant pattern.

 

Footnote 7: The list of statements reflects this significant pattern.

About the Author

Audrey Guinn, Ph.D. (asnowde@decisionanalyst.com) is a Statistical Analyst in the Advanced Analytics Group at Decision Analyst. She may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.

 

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