In places like Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Florida, COVID-19 cases are decreasing after the recent surge. It’s likely not due to any changes in behavior; there are just considerably fewer people around who haven’t already gotten sick.
As to the why of the partisan divide, there isn’t much mystery behind it. Republicans are more likely to believe conspiracy theories about the pandemic, about masking, and about the vaccines now widely available. Those conspiracy theories translate into a willingness to engage in riskier pandemic behaviors, a political desire to refuse the vaccine because Reasons, and (as countless internet-reported deaths have indicated) hesitancy even when it comes to receiving medical treatment. It’s a rich tapestry of social paranoia, and it’s leading the vaccine-hesitant into what could end up being a “herd immunity” reached the hard way.
A just-out KFF poll gives more insight on how we got to this point. The central finding is that misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic are absolutely rampant, with nearly four in five American adults either believing in or being unsure of the validity of at least one of the major false claims currently making the rounds in disinformation circles.
Here, too, the partisan divide is pronounced. Republicans are far more likely to believe multiple false claims about the COVID-19 pandemic, still-unvaccinated adults are much more likely to hold those beliefs, and as for how they might have come to that information? Again, there are no surprises to be seen.
Fox News viewers were several times more likely to believe false information about the pandemic than the viewers of other network or cable news shows. Only 12% of those who “trust” Fox News for COVID-19 information believed none of the eight tested conspiracies the polling group tested; for most other major news outlets, 40% could reject all of them.
The divide between Fox and “real” news outlets is even starker than that suggests, however. Fox News viewers were more likely to believe at least one false COVID claim than viewers of outright conspiracy outlets Newsmax and OANN. You read that right: Fox News viewers know less about the pandemic than those who rely on conspiracy sites.
Take a bow, Tucker freakin’ Carlson. Your network is killing the folks that watch it.
There’s no expectation that these trends aren’t going to continue. There’s no reason to believe that anyone in Republican governance will treat masking, vaccination, or other pandemic measures with any less scorn than they currently are. If anything, the DeSantis experience of allowing a massive red-state surge, weathering the resulting deaths, and boasting when the resulting infections dwindle again after local pockets of herd immunity are reached may encourage other conservative leaders that they, too, can bluff their way through 60,000 or so deaths and still claim a leadership trophy after the worst of it is over.
It’s shaping up to be quite a winter, and if you’re still not vaccinated you should fix that as soon as you possibly can. It’s going to be you versus the pandemic, and you can’t count on your local leaders to give a flying damn whether you catch it or don’t.