DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Door-knocking? Over.
Local party activity? Some Facebook traffic, if that.
Across an arc of vital swing states, the coronavirus has put politics on an uneasy pause.
Instead, political fights among state leaders from Iowa to Pennsylvania over the handling of the pandemic’s impact are raging as it spreads over this electoral heartland.
Protecting public health versus restarting the economy, along with arguments over the limits of executive authority, have taken the place of the national political debate typical of presidential campaigns at this point.
They reflect, unlike the political armistice that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks, a willingness to politicize this crisis. It’s one more clear measure of a polarized era.
“Yes, politicos and pols will always have November on their mind,” said Iowa GOP strategist John Stineman. “But, in my mind, what we are seeing right now is more about each base criticizing the other side for being wrong, a product of the political environment we have allowed to take root.”
Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Democratic nominees had won regularly for more than 30 years, tipped to Trump in 2016, sealing his victory with their combined 52 electoral votes.
While politics have slipped to an afterthought for most Americans behind a toll of mounting coronavirus deaths, lost wages and closed schools, the campaign buzz of a little more than a month ago has silenced.
In swing-voting Bay County, Michigan, Democratic activity had been humming, as it was statewide before the March 10 presidential primary, when participation jumped by 32% over 2016.
A week later, Bay City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade — the state’s largest and a Democratic tradition — was canceled. So was the county’s Democratic fundraising dinner, which was set to feature Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“I see chatter on social media. But as far as activity, it’s pretty much down to nothing,” said Bay County Democratic Chairwoman Karen Tighe.
Iowa canceled Democratic conventions in its 99 counties, a setback after 2018 Statehouse and congressional gains and a yearlong parade of presidential candidates vying for support in the February caucuses.
Republican Ron Forsell canceled plans for his fundraiser in Dallas County, Iowa, an emerging suburban battlefront.
“Politics is going to be there again,” he said. “But raising money now just doesn’t feel right.”
Democratic organizer Angela Lang’s door-to-door canvassing in struggling north Milwaukee had to shut down in late March, hurting her ability to reach this pivotal African American bloc before Wisconsin’s April 7 primary.
“I think for most Americans, politics is taking a major back seat to survival for some and the adjustment to this new normal for most of us,” said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat.
Even as the virus raged in Pennsylvania, Republicans in Harrisburg pushed through legislation aimed at reversing the shutdown edicts of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, painting him as unconcerned with struggling families.
During debate last week, Republican state Sen. John DiSanto said Wolf had forced “1.3 million Pennsylvanians out of work so far, put businesses at risk of permanent closure and imperiled the long-term health of Pennsylvania residents and our economy.”
Democrats said that Republicans were trying to throw workers back into the pandemic’s path.
“Let the world know whose lives are we willing to sacrifice,” Democratic Rep. Jordan Harris of Philadelphia said.
In Iowa, Democratic State Auditor Rob Sand has questioned the data Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is using to justify allowing more freedom of movement than in neighboring states. Reynolds’ aides were quick to point out public affirmation from Dr. Anthony Fauci after the federal government’s top infectious-disease expert praised Reynolds’ actions during a White House event this month.
The tension is most pronounced in Michigan, where the outbreak is far worse than in any of the other northern political battlegrounds.
Two weeks ago, Republicans sharply trimmed the emergency order Whitmer hoped to extend to June.
“Michigan’s recovery will take much longer and its economic impact will be much more devastating than it needed to be,” Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield said.
Democrats accused Republicans of racial bias for floating plans to open regions outside the predominantly African American Detroit area.
“It’s an us-versus-them thing with the rest of the state versus Detroit,” said Amy Chapman, an informal Whitmer adviser. “That’s another dog whistle of sorts.”
More than 1,900 people had died in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, the heart of metro Detroit, as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Whitmer’s criticism of the federal response in Michigan devolved into a public tiff with President Donald Trump, who responded by suggesting Vice President Mike Pence, his coronavirus task force leader, not call “the woman from Michigan.” Michigan Democrats echoed Whitmer’s criticism of the federal response to Detroit’s crisis, while GOP figures urged Trump to deescalate tension with the swing-state governor.
Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has built little campaign structure across the region. Trump is relying on state GOP headquarters for his operations, though they, too, have been largely empty.
Pro- and anti-Trump groups unaffiliated with the candidates have carried what little presidential campaigning has gone on here. Democrat-backed groups Priorities USA and American Bridge have aired millions of dollars in advertising savaging Trump’s handling of the crisis.
“Only the die-hards are paying attention to election politics,” Vilsack said. “However, opinions have formed and will continue to form on politics of how the administration is handling the situation.”
Associated Press writers Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
This story was first published on April 19, 2020. It was updated on April 20, 2020, to correct the timing of Whitmer’s declaration. She responded before GOP action, not afterward. It also corrects the timing of Republicans’ trimming the emergency order in Michigan. Republicans trimmed the emergency order two weeks ago, not last week.
Age Versus Politics in Determining Virus-Related Attitudes – Gallup
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 worried||Not very/Not at all worried|
|18-64 years old||52||48|
|65-74 years old||49||51|
|75-90 years old||50||50|
|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 household||17||19||16|
|Mostly isolated yourself, having very little contact with people outside your household||37||41||40|
|Partially isolated yourself, having some contact with people outside your household||23||24||33|
|Isolated yourself a little, still having a fair amount of contact with people outside your household||14||10||8|
|Did not make any attempt to isolate yourself from people outside your household||9||7||3|
|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.
Life After Lockdown, and the Politics of Blaming China – The New Yorker
Peter Hessler, who reported from China during quarantine, describes the lifting of those restrictions to David Remnick; Hessler’s children are going to school, and he recently went to a dance club. Meanwhile, back in Washington, Evan Osnos explains how blaming China has become a touchstone of the Presidential race in America. Uber-capitalist Mark Cuban describes the government interventions he thinks are necessary to rebuild the economy for a post-COVID “America 2.0”—a program that would please Bernie Sanders. And Susan Orlean tries her hand at origami.
Peter Hessler on Life After Lockdown
Peter Hessler reports from Chengdu, China, on what life after lockdown looks like, and why the experience in the U.S. will be very different.
The Rise of Anti-China Rhetoric
The staff writer Evan Osnos explains Washington’s obsession with China, and how it might shape the 2020 election.
Mark Cuban Wants to Save Capitalism from Itself
A reality-show mogul and multibillionaire offers a surprising approach to the economic crisis: socialism.
Katy Waldman on Comic Novels
A books columnist picks three novels to bring humor to dark times.
Susan Orlean Gets a Lesson in Origami
Who knew origami was a growth industry?
Politics Podcast: What Biden’s VP Picks Say About Him – FiveThirtyEight
Given that presidential nominees choose their running mates without any formal input from voters, how they choose can say a lot about the candidates and their views of their party and the country. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Perry Bacon Jr. and Julia Azari discuss the considerations former Vice President Joe Biden is making as he vets potential running mates — and what this says about his campaign.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
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