I am going to leave the old charts that were using Johns Hopkins COVID data in the narrative below, but the two immediately following will continue to be updated as long as data is available.
Misinformation and outright lies has been a major part of the problem of the COVID response in the US. This seems to be a particular problem related to the right and right-leaning media.
2020 election outcome data for the presidential race was used to group voters by county into six strata:
- 80-100% Republican
- 60-80% Republican
- 50-60% Republican
- 50-60% Democrat
- 60-80% Democrat
- 80-100% Democrat
Each of these strata were pooled for both 2010 population per the US Census Bureau and the incidence of COVID Cases. Due to the geographical election structure not aligning with county structure in Alaska, Alaska was excluded from this analysis.
The pooled COVID cases for each strata were then calculated as an incidence rate per 100,000 per calendar day. A 7-day moving average was then applied to each strata to remove some of the normal weekday variations and each line on the graph was colored to represent the degree of dominance of a political party (dark red represents >80% Republican, dark blue represents >80% Democrat) by 2020 presidential vote.
The hypothesis was that the more strongly a county voted Republican, the more likely it was to listen to and be influenced by misinformation and disinformation channels.
There is a clear gradient in case rates depending on the political leanings of counties. This has remained consistent over time with two exceptions.
When the pandemic first started, a large proportion of the spread was in New York City. This was before there was a good understanding of the mode of transmission and in a very dense population area. As the virus spread into less populous area of the country and more knowledge was gained about transmission, other factors became more important in spread, such as messaging and beliefs.
The other anomaly in this pattern is in the spring of this year. This could be an effect of college students traveling during spring break, who are at an age where they are eager to return to normal and more likely to be a source of asymptomatic community transmission.
For better clarity in the just how big the differences are in the extremes, the next graph only shows the >80% wins in the election. Except during the rapid case declines that were due to the vaccination efforts that reduced spread and the previously noted exceptions, the rates of new cases in strongly republican counties were almost four times as high as those in strongly democratic.
This becomes much more important as it related to vaccination efforts. As of this 7/31/22, the vaccination rates by state correlate well with voting. A current view of this map can be found here.
The majority of lies and disinformation seems to spread mostly in right wing media and is instigated by twelve different people. This is causing irreparable harm to health and to the economy. Sadly, as new variants come to dominate cases, the spread will be most obvious among those who have been fooled by these sources. What remains to be seen is whether the media will be held responsible for the damage they have caused.
Do your part. Get vaccinated. Encourage others to do so. As B.1.617.2 (the delta variant) gains a foothold, your health and life may depend on it.
There is a similar pattern for deaths when stratified the same way, which is not surprising at all. The two big jumps for about a month in May 2020 are due to states catching up on death reports and submitting them all at once.
8/21/21 Addendum. Fox “News” carries some responsibility for what is happening by allowing lies like this.
6/7/22 My work contributed to some academic research on this topic. “…The authors thank the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York Times for facilitating access to county-level COVID-19 mortality data. They also thank Charles Gaba of ACASignups.net, David Leonhardt of the New York Times, Gregory Travis, and Michael Olesen for their work documenting the differences in vaccine uptake, COVID-19 mortality, and county voting records. Their work to elucidate these differences inspired the work presented here.“
The authors provided another view of the data that paints the same kind of picture as what I was trying to communicate. See The Association Between COVID-19 Mortality And The County-Level Partisan Divide In The United States if you want further analysis, or a blog post about this topic as well.
It appears that Republicans as a whole lead less healthy lifestyles. Of course that would contribute to COVID mortality rates, although it should have nothing to do with infection rates.
It’s not just an urban vs rural pattern either.
6/16/22 I had a notification from Facebook today that showed me the earliest date that I had seen this pattern was two years ago today. As the data became clearer on the differences, I obviously moved away for not discussing the politics of disease and death and figured out better ways to visualize the data. It has played a big role both in harming individuals, but also in harming society, yet those that need to hear this continue not to listen. The only thing that I changed on it was the permission to view it, which had been set to friends only, but now is public.
7/18/22 People in Republican Counties Have Higher Death Rates Than Those in Democratic Counties
“A growing mortality gap between Republican and Democratic areas may largely stem from policy choices.”
A great example in this story is related to firearm deaths.
Of course this carries over to COVID as well.
“We estimate substantially higher excess death rates for registered Republicans when compared to registered Democrats, with almost all of the difference concentrated in the period after vaccines were widely available in our study states. Overall, the excess death rate for Republicans was 5.4 percentage points (pp), or 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democrats. Post- vaccines, the excess death rate gap between Republicans and Democrats widened from 1.6 pp (22% of the Democrat excess death rate) to 10.4 pp (153% of the Democrat excess death rate). The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available.”
10/9/22 A study in Nature shows just how dangerous right wing media sources are in causing excess morbidity and mortality by reducing vaccine uptake among their viewers. With a little luck, some enterprising attorneys will see this as very ripe grounds for a class action lawsuit by those who have lost someone or are dealing with chronic disease issues as a result of their infection and relying on media sources like Fox for COVID information.
7/21/23 The National Bureau of Economic Research has a working paper titled “Excess Death Rates for Republicans and Democrats During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which really shows how right wing media disinformation increased deaths both before the vaccine through minimizing the dangers of COVID, but also how the antivaccine rhetoric after it became available further amplified this effect.
“During the initial years of the COVID-19 pandemic, political party affiliation in the US was associated with excess death rates in Florida and Ohio at the individual level. Republican voters had higher excess death rates than Democratic voters, as noted in a large mortality gap in the period after, but not before, all adults were eligible for vaccines in Florida and Ohio. With adjustments for differences in age and state of residence between Republican and Democratic voters, our findings suggest that, among individuals in the same age groups living in the same states, there were significant differences in excess death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic associated with political party affiliation.”
“Our findings suggest that political party affiliation became a substantial factor only after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults in the US. Although the lack of individual-level vaccination status limited our ability to note further associations, the results suggest that well-documented differences in vaccination attitudes and reported uptake between Republican and Democratic voters may have been factors in the severity and trajectory of the pandemic.”
Dan Goodspeed has created animations that show just how these differences play out over time.
Other Media Stories
09/27/21 Red COVID