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Coronavirus Response Shows How A National Crisis Can Again Transform Politics – NPR

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A closed business in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., is a sign of the enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic on public health and the economy. An unprecedented crisis, met with an unprecedented government response, has the ability to transform the country’s politics.

Paul Sancya/AP


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Paul Sancya/AP

Just like the coronavirus pandemic could permanently change daily life in America, from hand washing habits to telework, it also has the potential to transform the country’s politics in profound ways.

“This crisis is a time machine to the future,” says Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America and a former director of policy planning at the State Department during the Obama administration. “I think we’ll look back and see that this was like the Great Depression or a war, and that created political space to make big policy change that seemed just too hard even two months ago.”

After every big national crisis in America, the federal government has emerged with a new, greater role.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who as President Obama’s chief of staff during the Great Recession famously said “never allow a good crisis go to waste,” points out that after the Civil War came land grant colleges and the national railway system; after the Great Depression came rural electrification and Social Security; and at the height of the Cold War President Eisenhower proposed a national highway system — all big federal investments that changed the fabric of life across the country.

The current pandemic and expected recession could result in a new, expanded role for the federal government again.

Big policy changes could also rearrange traditional political divisions, now that Republicans in the Senate have voted unanimously for policies they’ve opposed in the past, like paid sick leave, a guaranteed minimum income, student debt relief protections for renters and support for gig economy workers. Of course, this massive package of federal help for ordinary people is only temporary, but Democrats are hoping that not all of it is.

“Suddenly, in a crisis like this, people realize across the political spectrum that unless we can provide a floor, the whole economy can crash,” said Slaughter, noting the potential for permanent changes to the political debate. “That paid sick leave is not about coddling workers. It’s about making sure that sick workers don’t come to work and infect others. People are equally realizing, if workers have no money to spend, the economy can’t function.”

Democrats have advocated many of these policies for decades. But now that Congress has approved the largest federal intervention in the economy since the creation of Medicare, they see a new opportunity to push for big investments in modern digital infrastructure like 5G, a better public health system, universal health insurance that doesn’t disappear when you lose your job, and a stronger social safety net.

Former Clinton White House aide Bill Galston summed up the Democrats’ argument this way: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a brutal x-ray of the weaknesses of our social safety net in dealing with national emergencies. We shouldn’t be caught flat-footed by the next emergency any more than we should be caught flat-footed with a nearly empty national health emergency reserve, which was never restocked when it should have been.”

But Democrats aren’t the only ones who see a political opportunity in the pandemic. The nationalist, populist wing of the Republican Party that’s been warning about the dangers of globalization also appears to have gotten a boost.

“One of the core arguments of the Trump 2016 campaign is that in our supply chains and our manufacturing economy, we’d become too dependent on a globalized world, especially China,” said conservative J.D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy. “It turns out that if you want to have an economy that can weather a crisis, you actually have to be able to make some core things yourself, whether it’s wireless technology, whether it’s pharmaceutical products, whether it’s ventilators and hospital masks.”

And that’s exactly the argument that you’re hearing from White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, President Trump’s pandemic equipment czar.

“If there’s any vindication of the president’s ‘Buy American, secure borders and a strong manufacturing base’ philosophy, strategy and belief, it is this crisis,” Navarro said a White House press briefing earlier this month.

On trade, the pandemic gives a clear advantage to the anti-globalists in the GOP led by President Trump, but on domestic policies and the role of the federal government, while Democrats know what they want, Republicans aren’t so sure, according to Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington.

“I think the debate within the Republican Party over what it stands for has been heating up, and the pandemic is going to kick it into overdrive,” Olsen said. “You’ve got the people who are holding onto the neo-libertarian version of the past. But you’ve seen more and more calls for reform, which is moving more in the direction of engaging the Democrats on their core issue, which is how do we help people rather than saying the government can’t help people.”

He added, “I think you’ll see that debate ramp up once we return to more normal politics after the lockdowns are over. Then, I think the battle in the Republican Party is going to be fierce.”

There are already lots of splits.

Freshman Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., for instance, wants to beef up the social safety net, advocating a European-style unemployment backstop, where the federal government would pay companies 80% of wages to prevent layoffs during the crisis.

Other Republicans, however, support nothing more than the current temporary emergency measures. And in addition to Tea Party-style protests against the stay-at-home orders, there’s also conservative pushback to the exponential increases in federal spending — even the temporary ones.

Republicans shouldn’t expect to get any guidance from the president on resolving these internal disputes, according to Olsen. “If Donald Trump does what he usually does, he will gyrate between positions that each side can support,” he said. “And if the party does what it usually does, in the short term it will be locked in stasis, trying to figure out which iceberg Trump is going to land on and try to be there.”

But in the meantime, until Republicans agree on what they stand for, it may be hard for the president and his party to continue to argue that popular programs, like Obamacare, should be eliminated lock, stock and barrel.

“I think the appetite for small-government, everyone-is-on-their-own approach to the welfare state, frankly, was always pretty small and it’s gonna be even smaller, I think, over the next couple of years,” said J.D. Vance, particularly given the massive numbers of people applying for unemployment benefits, which hit 22 million last week, canceling out nearly all of the job gains since the Great Recession.

How this debate resolves itself depends on how long the pandemic recession lasts and how popular the government rescue programs turn out to be. As Henry Olsen points out, “If the giant government rescue plan works, it will legitimize government intervention in the economy in a way we haven’t seen in decades.”

Until then, the pandemic has given both parties an opportunity to appeal to the vast number of Americans who will need help from the federal government for some time to come.

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Age Versus Politics in Determining Virus-Related Attitudes – Gallup

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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?

18-6465-7475-90
%%%
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.

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Life After Lockdown, and the Politics of Blaming China – The New Yorker

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Illustration by Golden Cosmos

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?


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Politics Podcast: What Biden’s VP Picks Say About Him – FiveThirtyEight

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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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