USA: A Deadly Political Divide

USA/ 24 July, 2021/ Source/

Two Americas are on display as political conversations turn to vaccines and election results.

Listen in on a late 20th century conversation about politics, and the banter might be about whether trickle-down economics works, or whether the federal government ought to be paying people welfare without imposing a work requirement. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and the debate might be a bit more personal, with cultural issues like abortion, gay marriage and gun control dominating the conversation and defining the two sides.

Today, the political divide has become more drastic, and more dire, with implications for life-vs.-death and democracy-vs.-autocracy. America, recovering from a deadly pandemic and a painful political campaign season, is increasingly divided into two starkly different camps: those who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID and those who got their shots; and those who think the 2020 election was rigged and those who are convinced the nation barely averted a turn toward an autocratic government.

Pollsters, accustomed to asking such quaint queries as “Do you support such-and-such?” and “Do you think the country is headed in the right direction or wrong direction?” are now posing questions they never imagined they’d ask – or have to ask.

For Robert Jones, CEO and founder of the research group PRRI, the survey question came in April, when the group – which examines the intersection of religion, politics and culture – asked whether people agreed that “the COVID-19 vaccine contains a surveillance microchip that is the sign of the beast in biblical prophecy.”

“As a survey researcher and social scientist, that’s a question I wrote that I never thought I’d put on paper,” Jones says. But as it happens, 9% agreed and another 16% only “mostly” disagreed. Jones also has recently asked respondents if they believe that government, the financial community and the media are “controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.” Turns out, 15% of Americans (and 23% of Republicans) think that’s the case.

YouGov, another polling operation, asked a similar question this month about the COVID vaccine. Nearly a third (32%) of Republicans believe the vaccine is a tool for the government to implant microchips, compared to 14% of Democrats and 18% of independents who ascribe to the bizarre (and dangerous) theory. About two-thirds (65%) of Democrats and less than a third (32%) of Republicans believe the theory is “definitely false.”

The numbers are more than just astonishing, especially given the wide availability of scientific information from professionals in the field, experts say. They reveal a deep divide along party lines that threatens not only to undermine faith in democracy, but faith in a vaccine that could determine whether the nation is headed to yet another big spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

And to the extent that is already happening, it’s happening along party lines, as the new wave of the pandemic becomes a crisis of the unvaccinated. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 75% of Democrats have already been vaccinated; just 41% of Republicans said the same. Blue states are more likely to have tighter mask or vaccines rules; colleges that require vaccination, for example, are more likely to be located in states President Joe Biden won last November, KFF reports.

Vaccinations have increased faster, too, in counties that voted for Biden compared to those that voted for former President Donald Trump, the health policy research group reported. As of April 22, the average vaccination rate in Trump counties was 20.6%, only slightly less than the 22.8% vaccination rate in Biden counties.

“If you’re walking around with a mask on, people will assume you’re a Democrat.”

By July 6, the gap had widened, with the average vaccination rate in Trump counties at 35%, with the rate in Biden counties at 46.7%, the group found.

As the delta variant spreads, infections have jumped in red states like Missouri, Arkansas Louisiana and Florida – the last of which is governed by Republican Ron DeSantis, who has been marketing “Don’t Fauci My Florida” merchandise in a jab at Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief epidemiologist who has been urging people to get vaccinated. (DeSantis on Wednesday pleaded with residents to get the shot.) South Carolina, another red state, saw a 55% increase in COVID cases on July 7 from the previous 14 days.

Why should something like medicine be a political issue?

For many vaccine-reluctant or vaccine-hostile Republicans, “it’s Big Brother meets ‘Lord of the Flies,'” says John Geer, a Vanderbilt University professor and co-director of a recent Vanderbilt University poll showing a deep partisan divide on vaccines and the danger of the pandemic. That survey found that 74% of Republicans agreed with the statement that the pandemic “is largely over and things should go back to the way they were,” while 14% of Democrats agreed.

“It’s also a political statement,” Geer says. In ruby red Tennessee, “if you’re walking around with a mask on, people will assume you’re a Democrat instead of assuming you have not been vaccinated,” he says.

Similar divisions occur when Americans are asked about the integrity of the presidential election. In Arizona, where a much-derided audit is underway to search for allegedly fraudulent votes in Maricopa County, which Biden won on his way to capturing the Grand Canyon State. Some 61% of Republicans believe the evidence shows Trump really won the state, according to a OH Predictive Insights poll. Just 15% of Democrats share that view.

“The two parties are literally at war with each other,” with other OH Predictive Insights polling showing deep divides on the dangers of the pandemic and the trustworthiness of vaccines, says Mike Noble, the firm’s chief of research.



Unvaccinated Americans Say Vaccines Are Riskier Than Virus ]

COVID “is the honey badger of political issues. It doesn’t care about your religion, political affiliation, or ethnicity – COVID doesn’t care. Yet it’s regarded as a partisan football because now everything is regarded as a partisan football,” Noble says.

Trump has clearly driven much of the divide, continuing to claim, without evidence, that the election was stolen from him and being tepid in endorsing the vaccine (which he has received). The YouGov poll, in fact, found that Republicans are far more likely to trust Trump’s medical advice (62% do) than that of Fauci (21% of Republicans trust the veteran doctor’s guidance on medical matters).

But it’s not all about Trump, Jones says. “I think what’s happened is that the divide in this country was something that was clearly in motion before Trump entered the political scene. But he does step onto a stage that is remarkably well set for his personality and his style, and he quickly understood that, and understood how to manipulate the set,” says Jones, author of the book “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.”

Demographic and social changes have meant a drop in the percentage of white evangelical Christians in America, and “a lot of the Two Americas we’re seeing today is really an over-reaction to this existential threat to white Christian America,” Jones says.

Chris Haynes, a political science professor at the University of New Haven, says the trend started back in the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994, when frustrated Americans started losing faith in not just government, but other institutions.

With Trump as a powerful messenger, it’s easy for people to believe whatever “facts” – true or not – that reaffirm their grievances and view of the world, he says. “They’re willing to believe almost anything,” he adds.

For Republicans, the deep distrust could be deadly – literally as well as politically. Undermining faith in the electoral process may well have cost the GOP two U.S. Senate seats; Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won special election runoffs in January in the Peach State in part because Trump was insisting the state’s elections officials could not be trusted.

And the tragic reality is that those who refuse to get the vaccine are far more likely to get very ill or die from COVID – and that means Republicans could lose followers, Geer notes.

“We’re now playing on a different field” politically, Geer says. “It’s one reality vs. another reality.” This time, one set of followers literally may not survive.


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