Shocker (not): White people (on the whole) cared less about COVID when they thought it was mainly killing minorities.
Way back in March 2020, I launched my own COVID-19 case/fatality tracking spreadsheet project which mostly duplicates any number of existing sites, including one important addition:
- I've added the Presidential partisan lean of each state as well as which party holds the governor's seat. This may seem incredibly inappropriate (and it is), but it's sadly necessary because Donald Trump has apparently decided to only grant his favor and any substantial assistance to states which a) voted for him and b) whose governors kiss his ass enough.
I took a lot of criticism at the time from people who got the vapors and claimed that I was the one "politicizing" the pandemic, which was laughable in the Trump era, where everything has been politicized by the Trump Administration.
In July 2020, Katherine Eban of Vanity Fair confirmed everything I and others had suspected:
Six months into the pandemic, the United States continues to suffer the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the developed world. Considerable blame belongs to a federal response that offloaded responsibility for the crucial task of testing to the states. The irony is that, after assembling the team that came up with an aggressive and ambitious national testing plan, Kushner then appears to have decided, for reasons that remain murky, to scrap its proposal.
...But no nationally coordinated testing strategy was ever announced. The plan, according to the participant, “just went poof into thin air.”
...the effort ran headlong into shifting sentiment at the White House. Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures. Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity.
...Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.
...On April 27, Trump stepped to a podium in the Rose Garden, flanked by members of his coronavirus task force and leaders of America’s big commercial testing laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, and finally announced a testing plan: It bore almost no resemblance to the one that had been forged in late March, and shifted the problem of diagnostic testing almost entirely to individual states.
As I summarized at the time, it was pretty simple:
The Trump Administration decided that more Democrats would get sick and/or die from COVID-19 than Republicans, so they didn't give a rat's ass.
...In any event, I hope the Vanity Fair article puts to rest any complaints that it's "inappropriate" for me to be viewing the data through a partisan lens...because when the President of the United States, the HHS Dept., the Centers for Disease Control and the rest of the executive branch of the federal government is doing so, it means policy is being determined based on it. Pretending it "doesn't matter" because it shouldn't matter doesn't magically make it so.
Since then, of course, there's been a mountain of evidence that the situation has changed dramatically:
- Starting in September 2020, COVID-19 deaths among White Americans began to outpace their share of the total population...and in fact there's only been 2 months since then when its fallen below that threshold
- The racial disparity among vaccination rates between White Americans and Black Americans has nearly disappeared (from a 13-point gap in July 2020 to just a 5-point gap today), while the vaccination rate among Hispanic Americans is now 2 points higher than among White Americans
- The vaccination rate in the bluest U.S. counties is dramatically higher than in the reddest counties...and the gap has increased every month since COVID vaccines became widely available a year ago.
- The COVID death rate since last May is over 3.2x higher in the reddest counties than the bluest. It's 2.6x higher since the November 2020 election. And even if you include the first COVID wave which devastated Blue America two years ago, the death rate in Red America is still over 70% higher in the reddest decile vs. the bluest decile to date.
Of course partisanship isn't a direct substitute for race/ethnicity (plenty of White Americans voted for Biden and a surprisingly high number of Hispanic & Black Americans voted for Trump), but the connection is still damned strong.
Well, don't ever let it be said that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner don't know their base. Yesterday L.A. Times reporter Matt Pearce and Raw Story reporter Bob Brigham called attention to a new study published in the science journal Social Science & Medicine by Allison L.Skinner-Dorkenoo, Apoorva Sarmal, Kasheena Rogbeer, Chloe André, Bhumi Patela and Leah Chaa titled, clearly enough, "Highlighting COVID-19 racial disparities can reduce support for safety precautions among White U.S. residents."
Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times reported, "When white Americans heard about COVID hitting people of color harder, a lot of them mentally peaced out. This is ugly."
...In the abstract, the authors wrote they "found that those who perceived COVID-19 racial disparities to be greater reported reduced fear of COVID-19, which predicted reduced support for COVID-19 safety precautions."
"Reading about the persistent inequalities that produced COVID-19 racial disparities reduced fear of COVID-19, empathy for those vulnerable to COVID-19, and support for safety precautions. These findings suggest that publicizing racial health disparities has the potential to create a vicious cycle wherein raising awareness reduces support for the very policies that could protect public health and reduce disparities," the authors of the studies explained.
U.S. media has extensively covered racial disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths, which may ironically reduce public concern about COVID-19. In two preregistered studies (conducted in the fall of 2020), we examined whether perceptions of COVID-19 racial disparities predict White U.S. residents’ attitudes toward COVID-19. Utilizing a correlational design (N = 498), we found that those who perceived COVID-19 racial disparities to be greater reported reduced fear of COVID-19, which predicted reduced support for COVID-19 safety precautions. In Study 2, we manipulated exposure to information about COVID-19 racial disparities (N = 1,505).
Reading about the persistent inequalities that produced COVID-19 racial disparities reduced fear of COVID-19, empathy for those vulnerable to COVID-19, and support for safety precautions. These findings suggest that publicizing racial health disparities has the potential to create a vicious cycle wherein raising awareness reduces support for the very policies that could protect public health and reduce disparities.
As ugly as this is (as noted by Pearce), the timing of the studies is also worth noting...fall 2020. More specifically, the second, much larger study was conducted the week before the 2020 general election:
We recruited 500 participants based on a G*Power analysis indicating that a sample of 496 was needed to detect a small effect size (linear regression, f2 = 0.02) with 80% power. English-speaking, White U.S. adults (18 years or older) were recruited from MTurk between September 5th and 8th, 2020 in exchange for $2.50.
...We tripled the Study 1 sample size, which provided sufficient power to reliably detect a small effect size (f = 0.07) with 80% power and used the same inclusion criteria and recruitment methods as Study 1 (excluding participants who completed Study 1). A total of 1,515 White U.S. residents completed the study between October 25th, 2020 and November 3rd, 2020 in exchange for $1.75. After exclusions (n = 10), our final sample of 1,505 (representing all 50 states and Washington D.C.; Mage = 41.58, SDage = 12.83) consisted of 46% men and 54% women (7 non-binary participants) with a median income of $50,000-$59,999.
On Election Day 2020, the cumulative death rate in the bluest tenth of the country was still around twice as high as in the reddest tenth...even if that gap had already started quietly shrinking several months earlier:
In other words, at the time this study was conducted, an awful lot of White Americans apparently assumed that it was a "them problem" not an "us problem" and shrugged it off.
As for the overlap between race and politics, yes, that gets a mention as well:
4.1. Fear of COVID-19
...When political orientation (a composite measure of social and economic conservatism) was added to the model, perceiving COVID-19 racial disparities to be greater still predicted reduced fear of COVID-19 (p = .002). Increased conservativism predicted reduced fear of COVID-19 (B = −0.10, SE = 0.03), t (494) = −3.22, p = .001.
4.2. Support for COVID-19 safety precautions
...When political orientation was added to the model, perceptions of COVID-19 racial disparities still did not predict support for COVID-19 safety precautions (p = .239). Increased conservativism predicted reduced support for COVID-19 safety precautions (B = −0.23, SE = 0.02), t (494) = −9.86, p < .001.
Needless to say, since this study was conducted the worm has turned, the script has flipped and White America is now reaping what it sowed.