Anybody who assumed that the struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic would be purely medical and humanitarian clearly didn’t quite grasp the dark depths of politics and religion. From the moment we knew that a deadly plague was smothering the world, those with warped agendas were as animated as a squirrel in a peanut store.
Enter the conspiracy theorists and the paranoid hysterics, claiming that the virus was either a hoax, a plot to reduce and control the population, or the beginnings of the “great reset.” And that vaccines are weapons of Satan, the mark of the beast, and developed from fetal stem-cells and thus — in their words — “the product of the abortion genocide.”
These Christian fundamentalists and libertarian fanatics are dismissed by almost every responsible religious figure, from the Pope to the Chief Rabbi, and by all political leaders worth the name. But not by all, and not everywhere — including Canada.
A small but galvanized set of right-wing church leaders resist vaccines and masks, and their activism has bled through into Canadian conservatism. Federal Tory leader Erin O’Toole and most Conservative provincial leaders may disagree with these people, but they also know that their base is swamped in denial lunacy. If they’re too bold in condemning anti-vaccine zealots, or in any way supportive of vaccine mandates, they could see their leadership challenged and even defeated.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s refusal to demand vaccinations for those working in health care, in spite of the advice of experts, is an obvious case. Ford is more secure than O’Toole, but he has long relied on the Christian right and owes them far too much to risk their anger, especially with an election so close.
Erin O’Toole’s decision not to require that all Conservative MPs be vaccinated against COVID-19 has annoyed many of his caucus, but placated those who see him as far too liberal on their chosen obsessions. Yet he still hasn’t gone far enough for many. At the end of last week it was announced that a group of 15 to 30 Conservative MPs and senators intended to start a “civil liberties caucus.” Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu says that it will speak for those who may be losing their jobs for refusing to be vaccinated.
It’s a tangible threat to the leader, already in a precarious position, and there are a number of potential rivals waiting in the shadows. One of the more prominent and ambitious is Leslyn Lewis, the newly minted MP for Haldimand-Norfolk. She did extremely well in the party’s leadership contest, and her candidacy was supported by a number of socially conservative groups who now oppose vaccines. She’s the darling of religious conservatives, with some “interesting” opinions on many of the issues that the Tory base in rural Ontario and Western Canada still consider vital. When I mentioned her views in a column more than a year ago she immediately blocked me on social media, and I was harshly attacked by some of her supporters. In other words, she’s not someone to take lightly.
One of the ironies of all this is that for a party that boasts of its patriotism, this new conservatism is far more American than Canadian. The progressive Toryism of former years, one that had far more in common with conservative parties in northern Europe and Britain, was abandoned long ago, and Canadian conservatives now look south to the U.S. Republicans. That party, in turn, has had to bend to the Christian right, because without that vote no Republican can ever hope to become president.
The conservative Christian world is much smaller in Canada, but it’s far from insignificant and punches well above its weight. It’s also become more energized and organized in the last 15 years, largely because it sees what has been achieved in the U.S. Canadian right-wingers witness the victory of Donald Trump and other hardline leaders and regard it as a triumph. The truth, however, is that the crisis faced by modern Christianity is largely due to its perversion by the very people so revered by the Canadian conservatives who are currently influencing policies on vaccines and public health.
Religion and politics. Pray, and pray hard, that in this case they stop mixing.
Study: Politics Outweighed COVID Severity in Reopening Decisions – Inside Higher Ed
The political leaning of the county in which a college or university is located is the factor most closely associated with whether it offered in-person or remote instruction in fall 2020, research released Tuesday shows. The article, published in Springer’s Research in Higher Education, finds that the severity of the pandemic near a college and sociopolitical factors in its state were also associated with institutional decisions on how to offer instruction.
State political factors were a stronger factor for four-year public institutions than for four-year private or community colleges, while county political preferences had a stronger effect on four-year private and two-year public institutions.
“Given that in-person instruction was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence in the local area,” the authors write, “polarization, political identification, and institutions feeling compelled to operate as politicized entities (to stay close to the ‘in-group’) likely made the severity of the pandemic worse. These outcomes are aligned with the general findings [of previous research] that institutions seemed to give more weight to sociopolitical features over pandemic severity when choosing in-person instruction for Fall 2020.”
Why American Politics Is So Stuck — and What New Research Shows About How to Fix It – POLITICO Magazine
Why does American politics feel so stuck these days, with bipartisan bills vanishingly rare and solutions seemingly taking a back seat to constant attacks?
Our newly published research suggests an answer — and maybe a way to get un-stuck.
Most policies are rife with trade-offs. They have an intended outcome and some regrettable side-effects. Our recent studies suggest that political polarization in the United States runs so deep that it leads partisans to see the other side’s intended outcome as a ruse and the side effects as the real intention. In other words, Democrats and Republicans not only disagree about policy matters; they believe the other party’s agenda is intentionally designed to do harm.
We call this tendency the partisan trade-off bias, and it applies to both parties. To a Democrat, the purpose of an environmental policy that reduces carbon emissions, for example, is to preserve the environment, and a corresponding loss of coal mining jobs is an unfortunate side effect. But a Republican, our research finds, might look at that same policy and see a plot to eradicate jobs in the fossil fuels industry. Meanwhile, a Democrat might presume a Republican push to lower corporate tax rates is more about helping the wealthy and hurting the poor than fueling economic growth.
Of course, skepticism about motives is sometimes warranted. But, oftentimes, it is misguided, and the deeper it runs, the harder it is to get anything through the policymaking process. Unless politicians find a way to lessen the effects of the partisan trade-off bias, we’re likely to keep seeing stalemates on important policy issues.
We documented the partisan trade-off bias across five studies using online samples of a total of 1,236 participants, a mix of Republicans and Democrats. As an example, in one of our studies participants were randomly assigned to view a set of policy trade-offs, some proposed by Republicans and some proposed by Democrats. The policies dealt with taxes, environmental regulation, gun control and voting rights. Participants then rated how intentional they perceived the negative side effects of each policy to be. The more participants identified with the Republican Party, the more intentional they perceived the side effects of the Democratic-proposed policies to be, and the more participants identified with the Democratic Party, the more intentional they perceived the side effects of Republican-proposed policies to be.
In a nutshell, our studies showed that the negative side effects associated with different policy trade-offs are not interpreted by opponents as side effects at all, but as intended goals of the policy.
To date, the political science literature has shown that political polarization leads partisans not only to dislike each other, but to see the other side increasingly as a threat to the country. Our identification of the partisan trade-off bias reveals a psychological tendency that might help to explain this perception of threat. After all, how can you get along with someone who you perceive as intentionally trying to do harm?
The good news is that by identifying the partisan trade-off bias, our research points a path forward: Policymakers who pay more attention to this bias might be better equipped to achieve compromise. This means that rather than focusing only on the main goal of a policy, they need to communicate clearly to the public what is intentional and what is a regrettable side-effect of that goal.
Fortunately, our studies also suggest this might be achievable. The partisan trade-off bias happens not because people don’t understand a given policy, but because they don’t trust the policymakers who are pushing that policy. We found that the level of trust a person feels toward a policymaker proposing a policy is a crucial driver of the partisan trade-off bias. And when we were able to increase people’s trust in the policymaker in our studies, we saw the partisan tradeoff bias decrease substantially.
Existing research suggests there are many ways politicians can earn others’ trust, but one of the most powerful is also the simplest: making sure people feel their voices are heard and listened to before a policy is announced, including both those inclined to like and dislike a policy. When we told participants in our studies that a policymaker spoke with stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum before rolling out a proposal, the partisan tradeoff bias subsided.
Practically speaking, these findings suggest that announcing a big policy goal, and then doing press tours and campaigns to tout its benefits, likely does little to build trust. What happens before the policy is announced is crucial to building broad support for the policy. Politicians need to make it clear that they are speaking with and listening to those likely to be affected by a policy’s side effects. In the context of climate policy, a politician might visit coal miners in West Virginia or oil and gas workers in Texas while in the process of formulating a plan to reduce emissions, for example. The more widely the politician can advertise these efforts — across multiple types of media and across the ideological spectrum — the better.
Giving people a voice in the process does not mean they will change their minds about the value of the policy. But it does increase the chances that they will see the policy as a sincere attempt to solve problems rather than a form of hidden malice. That, in turn, can help lower the temperature and de-escalate the cycle of polarization. The same lesson holds for those of us who are not policymakers but ordinary citizens who want to have better conversations about politics. If you think you know what the other side’s real intentions are, think again. What you see as malice might be an unintended side effect. And if you want someone to give you the benefit of the doubt, put in the work of making them feel heard before you make yourself heard.
A new reason to move: politics – Yahoo Canada Finance
Blue states will get bluer, and red redder, in coming years, as more Americans factor political issues into their relocation decisions and head for places with like-minded tribes.
That’s the forecast from real-estate brokerage Redfin, which included “more migration for political reasons” in its outlook for the housing market in 2022. The deepening political polarization of the country includes new city- and statewide laws likely to attract adherents and repel detractors, driving political issues deeper into community life. Texas this year passed the nation’s strictest anti-abortion law, for instance. A Mississippi anti-abortion law could lead the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal everywhere. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, states will once again be free to set their own abortion statutes, creating a drastic dividing line between permissive and restrictive states.
Another Supreme Court case, involving gun rights, could make it easier to carry concealed weapons in New York and 7 other states, eroding gun-control efforts propagated largely by Democratic governors and mayors. On the other hand, marijuana is now legal in 19 mostly blue and purple states. Cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York are experimenting with police reform meant to cut down on lower-level arrests. Public-school curricula is a new flash point between parents who want racial and social justice taught in schools, and traditionalists who feel threatened by “wokeness.”
The Covid pandemic led to sharp disparities in masking rules, school opening policies and business restrictions among states and cities. That’s on top of longstanding differences in regulation and taxation between traditionally Democratic and Republican states. While there’s nothing new about regional differences in governing styles, policy polarization is making it easier for Americans to live in areas they find ideologically compatible. It’s also getting harder for liberals to find a comfortable enclave in conservative states, and vice versa.
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Moving patterns reflect politics
Americans seem increasingly likely to sort themselves into ideological groups by geography. “We know people are leaving blue counties and moving to red counties,” says Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “I think this will start to happen at the state level and at the neighborhood level. After next year’s midterm elections, we’ll be able to see if neighborhoods become more polarized.”
Up till now, the migration from blue states to red states has largely been driven by affordability. Blue states along the coasts typically have higher living costs and taxation levels than, say southern red states such as Texas and Florida. More and more, however, moving patterns reflect overt political choices.
An October Redfin survey of people who recently moved, for instance, found that 40% said they would prefer or insist on living in a place where abortion is fully legal. The portion taking the opposite view—saying they would prefer or refuse to live in an area where abortion is fully legal—was 32%. It’s not unusual for survey respondents to express strong opinions on abortion, but it may be new for people to factor such views into moving decisions. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe and more states ban or severely restrict abortion, it could become a bigger factor in relocation.
The Redfin survey of movers also gauged attitudes toward other touchy political topics. Larger percentages favored living in areas with liberal policies such as strong voter protections, gender anti-discrimination laws and legal weed. But 23% said they don’t want to live in places with strong anti-discrimination laws, 22% don’t want to live in a state with legal weed, and 16% don’t want to live where there are strong voter protections.
Americans consider many factors when deciding where to live, and some of those factors have political overtones. Many parents base home-buying decisions on the quality of schools, which drives up home prices in the best school districts and creates de facto segregation. The white-flight phenomenon has a similar effect, with whites who can afford to leaving urban areas for places where they consider quality of life better.
But those types of location decisions are based more on family-first attitudes than the liberal-conservative divide that’s taking root now. Americans choose a political tribe when they vote, donate money to political causes and decide which cable-news station to watch. Perhaps it’s only natural that Americans want to live among their political comrades, as well. Like much of America, real-estate listings are trending toward liberal or conservative.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips.
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