The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic transformed the UK political scene in the blink of an eye. At the start of 2020, the national political discourse had been swerving between being dominated by Brexit, the Labour leadership election and the sudden resignation of Chancellor Sajid Javid. In an instant, this was all overturned and replaced with a sole focus on battling the virus and the disease it causes: COVID-19. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost, whole sectors of the economy frozen or crushed, entire institutions reworked to defeat it.
Any event of this scale and tragedy is going to both draw deeply on a country’s identity and reshape it in some way. Britain’s identity was already deeply fractured by the EU referendum of 2016 and it would not have been unreasonable to imagine that this divide would make its presence felt in this crisis. Given the difficulties of the years since the referendum, in which expertise was challenged at every turn, we may well have expected a large section of the UK public to distrust the initial health message of the government in March of this year.
Yet this is not what happened. Instead, people rallied together. Over 750,000 volunteered to help relieve pressure on the NHS, people volunteered to join the UK’s huge RECOVERY programme at a rate faster than any other clinical trial in history and millions came from their homes every Thursday for nine weeks to applaud key workers. These events were not unique to Britain – but the way they were related to was. The NHS became perhaps even more central to many people’s notions of Britain than it was before. The BBC also saw record TV, radio and online audiences. These two institutions formed central parts of the national response, with people orientating their reasoning for helping around them – especially the NHS.
This matters because the government was successfully able to appeal not just on the basis of an amorphous healthcare system, but on behalf of an institution with a clear and important role to play in people’s identities. It was not the reason people wanted to help; instead, it was what people wanted to help. This was reinforced by the solemn fact that the virus killed and injured without reference to politics or other signifiers that had been driving division. People saw trusted institutions that resonated with their notions of self-leading and rallied to them.
What happened to ‘all in this together’?
However, that was the first phase. The sense of unity has since weakened considerably – and the government’s approval has drifted consistently lower all summer. While this shift pre-dates the most prominent story concerning the universality of the rules – the Dominic Cummings affair – we know that this particular scandal reinforced and strengthened that shifting attitude significantly. Once people saw that top officials were breaking their own rules, the game was up. Suddenly, people weren’t being asked to cleave to a trusted institution any more – they felt they were being taken for a ride by a government more interested in itself than in their wellbeing.
The Cummings story is not necessarily the reason these feelings existed, but it served very clearly as an episode that crystallised existing worries or played into doubts – a shorthand for why people felt distrust of the government.
Now there is divergence again. On the one hand, people still identify strongly with the institutions that led the response to the first wave – and will again in the second. They saw how well people came together, and they value that greater sense of community. It resonated well with them, and informed their self-view – it was possible to bring people together, and for them to all act in a common cause. On the other hand, they see a government that considers itself above the rules. Further policy bungling over the summer – such as on A-levels and COVID testing – will have reinforced that scepticism.
The result of this is a public who feel a desire to trust politicians again, to keep the increased community spirit of early lockdown, and to overcome the pandemic to restore normality – but who also feel that the government isn’t in a position to effectively help them do it. And this is before the expected wave of high unemployment, whole economic sectors closing down for perhaps years to come, and the full impact of the winter on the NHS.
The government’s failure to capitalise on the activated parts of people’s identities – the institutions they cleaved to, the desires they express –has already cost it dear. It is not unreasonable to be deeply concerned about the cost for all of us in the months ahead.
The Real Divide in America Is Between Political Junkies and Everyone Else – The New York Times
The common view of American politics today is of a clamorous divide between Democrats and Republicans, an unyielding, inevitable clash of harsh partisan polarization.
But that focus obscures another, enormous gulf — the gap between those who follow politics closely and those who don’t. Call it the “attention divide.”
What we found is that most Americans — upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all. Just 15 percent to 20 percent follow it closely (the people we call “deeply involved”): the group of people who monitor everything from covfefe to the politics of “Cuties.”
At the start of the year (i.e., pre-pandemic), we asked people to name the two most important issues facing the country. As expected, we found some clear partisan divides: For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to cite illegal immigration as an important issue.
But on a number of other issues, we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps. For example, Democrats and Republicans who don’t follow politics closely believe that low hourly wages are one of the most important problems facing the country. But for hard partisans, the issue barely registers.
Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.
Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups is an urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.
These gaps extend beyond issues to feelings about the other party. Hard partisans are twice as likely as people who pay less attention to politics to say that they would be unhappy if their child married someone of the opposing party.
Hard partisans are also more likely to speak out about these political likes and dislikes. Almost 45 percent of people who are deeply involved say they frequently share their views on social media — in some cases, daily. It’s only 11 percent for those without a politics habit. To put this in perspective, a Pew study finds that 10 percent of Twitter users are responsible for 97 percent of all tweets about politics.
This gap between the politically indifferent and hard, loud partisans exacerbates the perception of a hopeless division in American politics because it is the partisans who define what it means to engage in politics. When a Democrat imagines a Republican, she is not imagining a co-worker who mostly posts cat pictures and happens to vote differently; she is more likely imagining a co-worker she had to mute on Facebook because the Trump posts became too hard to bear.
We see this effect in a study we did with three other political scientists, James Druckman, Samara Klar and Matthew Levendusky. We asked a group of over 3,000 Americans to describe either themselves or members of the other party. Only 27 percent of these people said that they discuss politics frequently; a majority consider themselves moderates. But nearly 70 percent of these people believe that a typical member of the other party talks about politics incessantly and is definitely not moderate.
For partisans, politics is a morality play, a struggle of good versus evil. But most Americans just see two angry groups of people bickering over issues that may not always seem pressing or important.
How can politics better match the opinions of a majority of Americans? The fact is, it’s not an easy problem to solve. We can try to give the hardened partisans less voice in the news. Featuring people who exemplify partisan conflict and extremist ideas elevates their presence in politics (though of course by definition, it is the partisans who are most closely watching the news who are also most likely to give their opinions). This is particularly true of social media: What a vocal minority shares on social media is not the opinion of the public. Yet such political tweets, as the political communication scholar Shannon McGregor finds, are increasingly making their way into news coverage as stand-ins for public opinion.
There might be an advantage for politicians who focus less on the demands of partisans and more on tangible issues. Yes, hard partisans are more likely to reward ideological victories, but they are also a minority of the electorate.
Each day, partisan Democrats wonder whether that day’s “outrage” will finally change how people feel about President Trump. Partisan Republicans wonder the same thing about Joe Biden. But most “regular” voters are not paying that much attention to the daily onslaught. It turns them off.
And the major scandals that do break through? Well, to many of them, that is “just politics.”
Yanna Krupnikov (@ykrupnikov) and John Barry Ryan (@ryanbq), associate professors of political science at Stony Brook University, are the authors of a forthcoming book about polarization and disengagement in American politics.
La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre retires from politics – Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Article content continued
I knew what I was getting into, minus COVID-19. I’ve had some personal impacts when it comes to tragedies. Strong support from council and the community’s belief in my leadership helped us get through those moments. Without those supports, and of course the support of my family, it’s very challenging.
When I proceeded to become the mayor of La Loche, I thought I’d be able to step up to the plate and do what I needed to do. I think I was successful considering all the challenges that came my way during that time. Having good staff is (also) key to any successful leadership.
Healing, as individuals and as a community, was a common theme during your term. How is La Loche doing in that process?
We’re still struggling with a lot. There’s a lot of mental health capacity we need to work with and individuals and families that were directly impacted by that incident, and the community as a whole.
But with COVID-19 coming into the community, isolated people weren’t allowed to visit. (It was a challenge) putting on those measures and restrictions in the community, especially when we hit the pandemic and the numbers started to soar.
All those have an impact on an individual’s psyche. Getting those measures put in place, and getting some of these mental health positions filled to support individuals is going to be paramount in the years to come.
What went into La Loche’s COVID-19 response and how it affected residents there?
A lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of time. I was on the phone from 8 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. each day. … Everything has to be clear to point where we can relay those messages to the community.
Politics Podcast: Why Biden’s Lead Is Different – FiveThirtyEight
According to our forecast, Democrats have a 72 percent chance of winning a trifecta — that is, controlling the presidency, the House and the Senate. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses what policies the party would prioritize in such a scenario and what divisions might emerge. They also compare Joe Biden’s position now with Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 and explain what’s similar (and what’s different) about their circumstances.
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 is recorded 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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