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Age Versus Politics in Determining Virus-Related Attitudes



Epidemiologists have firmly established that the probabilities of getting severe symptoms and dying from the coronavirus are positively correlated with age. This age relationship has a number of causes, including that older people are more susceptible to respiratory issues; have decreased immunity in general; are more likely to have underlying chronic diseases that make them more susceptible to severe consequences of the virus; and are in many instances living in close-quartered retirement and nursing homes.

We can assume that older people are aware of this relationship, although I haven’t seen survey research that directly assesses people’s knowledge of the relationship between age and susceptibility to the virus.

Given this assumption, we would logically conclude that older Americans would be the most likely to worry about getting the virus, most likely to socially isolate themselves and most likely to express trepidation about reduced social distancing. But the data don’t confirm these hypotheses. I’ve been looking at the attitudes and self-reports of behavior for Americans 65 and older, and find that in most instances, this group is indistinguishable in their attitudes and behaviors from those who are younger.

I’m basing this analysis on a large sample of over 12,000 individuals in Gallup’s panel interviewed between May 4 and May 24. I divided the sample into three groups by age: 18-64, 65-74, and 75-90, although for sample-size reasons, in some instances I collapse the last two into those 65 and older.

Worry About Getting the Virus Doesn’t Differ by Age

The first measure of interest is worry or concern about getting the virus, a core question in Gallup’s panel interviewing. Here we find that 49% of those 65-74 and 50% of those 75-90 are very or somewhat worried, compared with 52% of those 18-64. In other words, no significant difference by age.

Americans’ Worry About Getting the Coronavirus, by Age

How worried are you that you will get the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Very/Somewhat worriedNot very/Not at all worried
18-64 years old5248
65-74 years old4951
75-90 years old5050
Gallup Panel, May 4-24, 2020

Logic based on the virus’ real-world impact would lead to the assumption that older people should be more worried about getting the virus. Why aren’t they?

One explanation could involve social isolation. If older Americans are more likely to be confined to their dwelling units and less likely to go out, their lower level of worry could be because they believe they are not in a position to catch the virus.

But our data on social isolation and social distancing don’t strongly support the hypothesis that older people are more homebound. Gallup’s data show that 17% of Americans under age 65 say they are completely isolated, with another 37% saying they are mostly isolated. Older Americans’ reports are not significantly different, with 19% of those 65-74 and 16% of those 75-90 saying they are completely isolated, and 41% and 40%, respectively, mostly isolated.

Americans’ Self-Reported In-Person Contact, by Age

Next, thinking about everything you’ve done in the past 24 hours, which of the following comes closest to describing your in-person contact with people outside your household?

Completely isolated yourself, having no contact with people outside your household171916
Mostly isolated yourself, having very little contact with people outside your household374140
Partially isolated yourself, having some contact with people outside your household232433
Isolated yourself a little, still having a fair amount of contact with people outside your household14108
Did not make any attempt to isolate yourself from people outside your household973
Gallup Panel, May 4-24, 2020

A separate question assessing self-reports of social distancing show some differences. Here we find that 65+ adults are about 12 percentage points more likely than those under age 65 to say they are “always” practicing social distancing, but the two groups are more equal when we look at the combined categories of those who report always and “very often” social distancing.

Older Americans are actually slightly more likely than those under age 65 to say they have been out to the grocery store in the previous 24 hours. Older Americans are also more likely to say they have visited a pharmacy and a doctor’s office, hospital or treatment center, no doubt reflecting the higher probability of having medical conditions and prescriptions as age increases.

There is a big difference by age in leaving home to go to work, as we would expect. Older Americans are much less likely to be employed than younger Americans (only 15% of those 65 and older are employed either full or part time in our panel data, compared with 70% of those 18-64). There is a lot of remote working today, but 37% of those who are under age 65 have left their home to go to work within the 24 hours before they were interviewed, compared with 13% of those 65-74 and only 2% of those 75-90.

All in all, older Americans’ worries about getting the virus may not be as high as expected because they are less likely to be working and are more likely to perceive themselves to be always practicing social distancing. But the data on self-reports of contact with other people and the frequency with which older and younger people get out to the store, pharmacy and doctor’s offices don’t confirm that hypothesis.

Partisanship Much More Powerful Than Age

There are often confounding influences at work when we look at the relationship between a demographic characteristic and another variable. Most demographic characteristics are associated with other characteristics, and sometimes those relationships help explain what’s behind an initial finding.

In the current situation, we know that politics has an inordinately large role in determining virus-related attitudes and behavior, and that political identity is age-related.

Older Americans are substantially more likely to identify as Republicans than those under age 65. Republicans are much less worried than Democrats about the virus and less likely than others to socially isolate themselves. This could mean that the lack of higher levels of worry on average among older Americans is caused by their greater likelihood to be Republican.

The data, however, show that older Democrats are no more likely to worry about getting the virus than younger Democrats, and older Republicans are only slightly more likely than younger Republicans to worry. This means there is no hidden effect of party in the age finding. No matter how we might hypothetically change the proportions of Republicans or Democrats among older Americans in the sample, there would not be a significant age skew in worry about the virus.

The same pattern holds when we look at the relationship between age and social isolation. There is little variation across age in social isolation among Democrats, while 65 and older Republicans are only slightly more likely to say they are social isolating than those who are younger.

The remarkable thing about these findings is the degree to which the subjective factor of partisanship is a much more powerful correlate of worry about the virus and self-isolation than the objective factor of age.

I call age an objective factor because the relationship between age and higher probabilities of having severe symptoms and mortality from the coronavirus is well-established. Yet, these objective facts don’t appear to make a great deal of difference to older Americans on the measures we have looked at; older Americans aren’t a lot different than those who are younger, in terms of their worry and social isolation. But one’s political self-identity makes a huge difference on these same measures. Among Americans of all age groups, Democrats are overwhelmingly more likely to say they are worried about getting the virus and are more likely to be socially isolating themselves than those who identify as Republicans. And prior research shows that these political differences are not the result of where the two partisan groups live.

Worry about getting the virus, in short, is to a significant degree a subjective phenomenon that arises from one’s political and ideological identity, and that in turn leads to big differences in actual behavior relating to the virus. The objective facts, at least based on age data, don’t seem to make a great deal of difference.

Organizations May Need to Take Partisanship of Their Members Into Account

Organizations developing their reopening plans are in many cases focusing on age as a major consideration. Religious organizations, for example, are now grappling with decisions on when and how to reopen to in-person worship in their sanctuaries, temples and mosques. In-person worship, in most instances, is skewed toward older parishioners. Religious leaders might initially jump to the conclusion that their older members would disproportionately be worried about coming back, leading to a decision to delay reopening and continue with virtual worship as a complete or parallel option.

Other entities that disproportionately depend on older patrons include restaurants, theaters, symphonies, ballet, cruises and travel destinations. All will be affected if their older customers are resistant to returning as customers.

Our data suggest that assumptions about disproportionality of concern among older members, customers and patrons need to be examined closely. Churches and other business organizations may find that the political orientation of their membership and patrons is a more powerful predictor of returning to in-person participation than the members’ and patrons’ average age.

We have some limited data from May 4-10 interviewing that speak to the issue of reopening. The question asked when people would feel comfortable in returning to normal activities if government restrictions were lifted and people were able to decide for themselves how soon they would return to normal day-to-day activities. The overall results may be somewhat dated now, but the relevant finding is the lack of significant differences in the responses by age. Those 65 and older did not differ significantly from those under age 65 in terms of saying they would return right now; after cases decline; after there were no new cases; or when a new vaccine was developed. But, importantly, there were major differences by partisanship, underscoring the basic conclusion of the power of political orientation in determining virus-related attitudes and behavior.

Source: – Gallup

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Edited By Harry Miller


Kanye for president: the dangerous allure of the celebrity politician – The Conversation UK



Rapper and sometime Trump supporter Kanye West has announced that he will be running for president of the United States. Without the tens of thousands of signatures needed to get on the ballot in all states or the backing of a small party, West’s chances of winning are almost zero.

Although West won’t be entering the White House any time soon, plenty of other celebrities have made a successful career in politics. A mix of charisma, media-savvy and anti-establishment airs can help them appeal to voters. We should be alert to what makes these people popular with voters because it rarely plays out well when they actually find themselves in office

In addition to Trump, the US has seen a swathe of celebrities turned politicians. The singer Sonny Bono, of Sonny and Cher fame, became the mayor of Palm Springs, California in 1988 and then was elected to Congress in 1994. Professional wrestler Jesse “the Body” Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota in 1999 and held the position until 2003. Then there was California governor and later US president Ronald Reagan, who rose to fame as a Hollywood actor.

This phenomenon is not limited to the US. The prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, was a cricketer. The president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, was a comedian. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, was an actor who played the president in the Ukrainian television show Servant of the People. All over the world, celebrities have become involved in politics, with some occupying the highest offices.

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The celebrity advantage

Celebrity and politics may seem to be a natural fit. Celebrities are often charismatic and well versed in engaging with the media. They already have more experience in working on camera and cultivating an image. Today, they also may have more understanding of how to use social media.

Unlike outsiders that come out of nowhere, celebrities also benefit from name recognition and their campaigns are more likely to garner media attention. For example, the media’s fascination with Trump’s antics earned him nearly $5 billion (£4 billion) worth of free airtime during the 2016 campaign.

Before becoming president, Donald Trump starred on reality TV show The Apprentice.
Joe Seer/Shutterstock

The rise of celebrity politicians has, in part, to do with changes in politics from traditional political skills to media management and fundraising. While the qualities of a celebrity are often poorly suited to the duties of governing, they can attract the necessary attention from the media without any prior political accomplishment.

Additionally, increasingly blurred lines between entertainment and news (or infotainment) have lowered barriers for celebrities to enter politics. With the news focused on entertaining viewers more than informing them, profiling a celebrity candidate is a perfect story to run with.

But it is not just the role of the media and changes in politics that are important here. Voters are also drawn to celebrities because they are anti-establishment.

A break from traditional politics

Though celebrities are not necessarily populist, there are aspects of their appeal that are similar. Celebrities are well known, charismatic. Many who end up running for office lack a deep knowledge of politics and governing and have no experience governing.

They may be able to use a simplistic communication style and direct language that appeals to the common man and gives the impression that they are relatable. They also tend to not have the same academic backgrounds – for instance, degrees or associations with prestigious institutions – that many politicians have.

Like populists, some celebrities promote their lack of knowledge and expertise. For example, the former wrestler Jesse Ventura attacked people with college degrees and bragged about being the only candidate for Governor of Minnesota that did not have a law degree.

Counterintuitively, this anti-intellectualism is something that appeals to some voters who do not want to support a candidate that appears to be smarter than they are. These characteristics are seen as an advantage, representing a break from traditional politics.

Once in power, celebrities do not have a strong record of governing. Those that manage to be successful in political roles are the exception, not the rule. Their lack of experience and knowledge of laws and governing often make their political turns disastrous. At best, they continue with the status quo of dysfunctional politics.

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One-time actor and former President of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada was impeached for corruption. The President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, has been accused of sexual abuse, though charges were later dropped, and blocking an investigation by the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) in Guatemala into his party and his relatives. The presidency of former singer Michel Martelly (known as “Sweet Micky”) of Haiti was dogged by delayed elections, accusations of corruption, political violence and rising poverty.

Most importantly the rise of celebrity politicians is not a sign of the democratic field becoming more interesting or open. The rise of such candidates is a sign of
political decline of democracies and wider frustration with professional politicians who voters feel disillusioned and distant from.

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Trump may have won the political battle. But he lost the constitutional one. – The Washington Post



But as a matter of constitutional law, the court’s rulings represent significant and justified constraints on the authority not only of this president, but also his successors.

First, the court made clear that no president is above the law when it comes to criminal subpoenas for private information: State prosecutors are entitled to such subpoenas and don’t have to prove greater need when they seek a president’s records than they do for anyone else. Second, the court held that Congress has the authority to subpoena a president’s records, even as it put limits on lawmakers’ ability to do so.

It’s the second ruling that has greatest significance for future occupants of the Oval Office. Remarkably, this was the first time the high court considered whether Congress can compel presidents to produce records. As Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. explained, such demands typically are resolved in bruising battles between the branches.

“Congress and the president maintained this tradition of negotiation and compromise — without the involvement of this court — until the present dispute. Indeed, from President Washington until now, we have never considered a dispute over a congressional subpoena for the president’s records.”

This push and pull ended in the Trump presidency. The White House has simply refused to comply with congressional oversight requests or subpoenas, even in the case of impeachment. White House lawyers claim executive privilege allows not just the president but all White House aides, officials scattered throughout the executive branch and even private citizens to refuse to appear.

Until now, judges held back. During Watergate, a federal court refused to force President Richard Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes to the Senate. In another major case, a court ordered George W. Bush’s White House counsel, Harriet Miers, to testify about the politically motivated firing of seven U.S. attorneys, but also ruled she could refuse to answer specific questions. Trump stonewalled so vigorously that the high court felt it had to get involved — a legal backfire of potentially historic dimensions.

Under the new ruling, the House of Representatives will have to show the appeals court that this request for documents meets four newly established tests to ensure that the request is narrow and legitimate. Good lawyering should make that goal easy to meet.

The ruling does leave one cloud. Previous court rulings had held that Congress lacks the power to probe just to embarrass individuals; it needs a legitimate legislative purpose.

Investigations of wrongdoing — real or alleged — have been essential throughout U.S. history. Hundreds of officials over the decades have squirmed under TV lights and been forced to produce documents, sometimes revealing crimes and squalid misconduct. This has resulted in landmark statutes, from campaign finance reform to government ethics measures. Still, some inquests — think Teapot Dome, Watergate, or Iran contra — have been more noteworthy because they exposed wrongdoing to the public rather than any laws they produced.

Will this ruling serve as a charter for strong oversight? Or will it mischievously limit it, so that future White Houses can duck accountability? That will be up to future courts, who have now put themselves in the center of these disputes.

There are other ways to strengthen checks and balances. For starters, Congress will need to find ways to use the power of the purse to compel cooperation. Lawmakers also have the power to hold witnesses in contempt and even to seek prison time if they refuse to testify. The notion of a jail cell in the basement of the Capitol appears, alas, to be an urban myth. Perhaps one should be created.

There may also be a need for a clear statute to govern executive branch testimony. More than a decade ago, the Brennan Center proposed a new law to authorize executive privilege but limit its use and give Congress the power to compel testimony. It’s time to take such proposals more seriously.

Ultimately, much of the answer will come in the conduct of president and Congress. Investigators will need to curb their appetites for frivolous and harassing investigations. Presidents will have to decide whether to fight for every inch of advantage, or acknowledge Congress’ role, no matter how infuriating that may seem.

For now, Congress has new weight behind its constitutional authority. When they negotiate, lawmakers now know that, sooner or later the Supreme Court has said it would be willing to step in. That alone can help reset the balance between the two branches at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Government watchdog: Politics caused ‘Sharpiegate’ frantic rebuke – USA TODAY



Political pressure from the White House and a series of “crazy in the middle of the night” texts, emails and phone calls caused top federal weather officials to wrongly admonish a weather office for a tweet that contradicted President Donald Trump about Hurricane Dorian in 2019, an inspector general report found.

Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson concluded in a report issued Thursday that the statement chastising the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, could undercut public trust in weather warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and for a short time even hindered public safety. Agency officials downplayed and disputed the findings.

“Instead of focusing on NOAA’s successful hurricane forecast, the Department unnecessarily rebuked NWS forecasters for issuing a public safety message about Hurricane Dorian in response to public inquiries–that is, for doing their jobs,” the report concluded.

Former Obama NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, a scientist at Oregon State University, said in an email that high level officials “put politics and their own jobs above public safety. In my view, this is shameful, irresponsible, and unethical.”

Hurricane Dorian: Emails show weather service’s angst, anger over Trump’s ‘doctored’ hurricane map

At issue was a Sept. 1 tweet from the Birmingham weather office that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The tweet came out 10 minutes after Trump had tweeted that Alabama was among states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Forecasters in Alabama said they didn’t know about the president’s tweet, which was based on outdated information, and that they were instead responding to calls from a worried public.

By the time the two tweets were posted, Alabama was no longer in the hurricane center’s warning cone, although it had been in previous days. One hurricane center graphic at the time showed a “non-zero” chance of tropical storm force winds for a tiny corner of Alabama, something NOAA officials later scurried to highlight, according to the report.

However, NOAA acting chief Neil Jacobs told the inspector general’s office that the day of the president’s tweet he was baffled by Trump’s reference to Alabama: “(T)hat was the first time when I was wondering why are we still talking about Alabama, you know?”

The dustup came to be referred to as “Sharpiegate” after the president later displayed a National Hurricane Center warning map that had been altered with a black marker to include Alabama in the potential path of the storm. The president is known for his use of Sharpies.

Four days after the tweets, then acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross an email after 9 p.m., saying “it appears as if the NWS intentionally contradicted the president. And we need to know why. He wants either a correction or an explanation or both.”

That triggered a series of texts, emails and phone calls involving Ross underlings, especially Department of Commerce Chief of Staff Michael J. Walsh Jr. from 1 a.m. to 3:43 a.m., laying the groundwork for a NOAA statement that came out the next day.

Jacobs said “things went crazy in the middle of the night.”

Then-NOAA communications chief Julie Kay Roberts told the inspector general’s office that Walsh told her “there are jobs on the line. It could be the forecast office in Birmingham. Or it could be someone higher than that. And the higher is less palatable.”

Walsh denied that to the inspector general. The report said there was no credible evidence found to say that jobs were threatened. However, Jacobs told the inspector general’s office he “definitely felt like our jobs were on the line” but that “nobody told me I was going to get fired.”

The eventual unsigned statement from NOAA said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Dorian made landfall in North Carolina and had no major impact on Alabama, which is about 600 miles away.

“By requiring NOAA to issue an unattributed statement related to a then-5-day-old tweet, while an active hurricane continued to exist off the east coast of the United States, the Department displayed poor judgment in exercising its authority over NOAA,” the inspector general report said

The report also criticized Roberts for deleting text messages, which is contrary to government document retention rules.

In a statement attached to the report, Walsh said the report’s conclusions “are completely unsupported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report lays out. The Inspector General instead selectively quotes from interviews, takes facts out of context.”

The White House declined comment. The Department of Commerce attached a letter to the report saying the report doesn’t dispute the accuracy of the Sept. 6 statement that criticized the Birmingham office nor does it find that the agency suppressed scientific communication.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said she could not support Jacobs’ nomination to be the full-time, no longer acting, chief of NOAA, saying the report shows Jacobs “failed to protect scientists from political influence.”

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