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Covid-19 Is Twisting 2020 Beyond All Recognition

Covid-19 Is Twisting 2020 Beyond All Recognition

Sunday, 5 April, 2020 - 05:15

The coronavirus crisis will determine whether Trump is a one-term president, but it may reshape the social order far more.

Not only will the coronavirus crisis define Donald Trump’s legacy, it will determine whether or not he is a one-term president.

David Winston, a Republican pollster, summed up the situation in an email:

The country is not looking at what is occurring through a political lens. They are focused on the threat to their health and the country’s health and how that threat is being addressed.

Because of that, Winston continued, voters will judge the Trump administration by “the effectiveness of actions taken to address that threat, and get the country moving forward again,” making the question on Election Day “who does the country believe should be given the responsibility to govern.”

Crises can provoke extreme responses. The 2008-9 recession produced both Barack Obama and the Tea Party. On a grander scale, the Great Depression produced both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler.

No one is suggesting that the country is at such a point now, but, the current pandemic shows signs of reshaping the American political and social order for years to come.

On March 26, Pew Research released results of a survey that showed significant demographic and partisan differences in responses to the question “Has someone in your household lost a job or taken a pay cut as a result of Covid-19?”

In both cases, significantly higher percentages of young people, minorities, low-wage earners and Democrats reported adverse impacts on their households than did older, white, high-income Republican respondents. At 36 percent, more than a third of those with low incomes reported taking a pay cut since the onset of Covid-19, twice the level of those in the upper third of the income distribution, at 18 percent.

In a striking development, partisan polarization has emerged as a powerful force in shaping responses to the virus.

In a paper published last week, “Partisanship, Health Behavior, and Policy Attitudes in the Early Stages of the Covid-19 Pandemic,” three political scientists, Shana Kushner Gadarian of Syracuse University, Sara Wallace Goodman of the University of California, Irvine and Thomas B. Pepinsky of Cornell, found “a broad political divide in reaction to Covid-19.”

The authors conducted a survey of 3,000 adults March 20-23 asking about health behavior and attitudes toward the crisis. Gadarian, Goodman and Pepinsky determined that Republicans are less likely than Democrats to report responding with Center for Disease Control-recommended behavior, and are less concerned about the pandemic, yet are more likely to support policies that restrict trade and movement across borders as a response to it.

In contrast, Democrats “have responded by changing their personal health behaviors, and supporting policies that socialize the costs of testing and treatment.”

Their conclusion?

Partisanship is a more consistent predictor of behaviors, attitudes, and preferences than anything else that we measure.

Gadarian added by email that “the divide in anxiety along partisan lines is very troubling” and that it is “likely to continue until the president and conservative media allow the health experts to lead the messaging.”

While acknowledging that Trump has seen a short-term bump in his favorability rating, she pointed out that “when people start to understand the seriousness of this disease up close, this should diminish the importance of partisanship in their decision-making. Unfortunately, that may be too late to take the steps necessary to avoid harm to themselves and their families.”

When the best-case scenario predicts 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, the pandemic reminds us just how important it is who holds the reins of power. This is especially the case when one crucial question will be whether widespread suffering, panic and economic collapse will destabilize the American political system and the fragile consensus-based social order that underpins it, both of which have been under strain for some time.

The New York Times

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