America these days has many powerful political disagreements, even for things that, at least superficially, don't seem to be overtly political. One of them is the government response to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. It has divided the country politically as few other issues in recent years, new I&I/TIPP data show.
Those responding to the latest poll were asked whether the economic lockdowns, public school closures, masking requirements and social restrictions were "necessary or unnecessary to address the COVID virus."
The majority believe the government's actions were needed. By 57% to 30%, Americans answered that the COVID restrictions, however draconian and painful, were "necessary" rather than "unnecessary." Another 13% said they were not sure.
These results emerged from a national online I&I/TIPP Poll of 1,359 adults, taken from Nov. 2-4. The poll's margin of error is +/-2.8 percentage points.
When you look at the breakdown by political affiliation, the COVID schism clearly comes into view.
Among Democrats, an overwhelming 79% said the COVID lockdown restrictions were necessary, versus just 35% of Republicans. Among independents, 50% said they were needed.
But just 12% of Democrats said they were "unnecessary," compared to 52% of Republicans and 32% of independents. Only 9% of Democrats were unsure; 13% of Republicans and a sizeable 18% of independents weren't certain.
So approval of the COVID restrictions appears to have been mostly a Democratic phenomenon.
The poll asked a second question of those who called the COVID restrictions "unnecessary," roughly a third of all those queried. They were given six possible answers, but could select any or all that they felt would have been better than the policy government followed. The selections included:
- Warn the public about the risks of transmission, but leave the economy and schools open.
- Let the virus run its course and take common-sense precautions
- Do more research on potential vaccines, including mRNA shots, which had some bad after-effects for many young people.
- Fire those government officials found responsible and reform our government’s health care research facilities.
- Do nothing.
- Not sure.
Among those who called the government's response "unnecessary," the majority — 56% — chose the first answer, just ahead of 55% who picked No. 2 . Trailing, at a distant third at 41% was response No. 4, with No. 3 (the question on "more research" pulling up with just 30% of the answers.
"Do nothing" at 5% and "Not sure" at 4% came in last.
Of the 420 people who called the official COVID response "unnecessary," 53% were Republican, while just 16% identified as Democrat. Independents made up 30%.
Among Democrats, none of the responses offered garnered more than 40%, including the first two. For both independents and Republicans, who have in general been more skeptical of the government's COVID efforts, the first two answers were favored by more than 50%.
And only for response No. 3, "Do more research ... " was there common ground, with 26% of Democrats, 31% of Republicans and 29% of independents agreeing this was a good idea.
The point here is that, even among people who seemingly agree that the COVID lockdowns were "unnecessary," significant political differences exist.
In our most-recent midterm elections, COVID-19 and how it was handled was the elephant in the room. As the I&I/TIPP Poll showed this month, a plurality (39%) of Americans believe granting amnesty to those who made COVID-policy mistakes was a bad idea, compared to 35% who thought amnesty was a good idea.
And again, the split was sharply partisan. A question arises: What effect, if any, did COVID have on the outcome of the recent election?
Both parties showed little enthusiasm for making COVID a major issue in the campaign, though it was clearly on the minds of many.
Democrats were tired of being criticized for their role in shutting down the economy, closing schools and mass-masking rules that infuriated many. In September, in an attempt to defuse the potentially explosive issue and with the midterms looming, President Joe Biden even told "60 Minutes": "The pandemic is over."
Biden's comment was followed weeks later by a piece in the influential magazine The Atlantic proposing that those who made huge, in some cases deadly, mistakes should be granted amnesty for any of their crimes or misconduct.
Was COVID thus defanged as an issue during the election?
Clearly, Republicans did not experience a "Red Wave" election, failing to win the Senate and barely eking out a win in the House. If Americans were so upset about COVID, why didn't they vote out the party in power more decisively?
There are several reasons. One was an overwhelming desire by voters to "return to normal." An early November poll by Pew Research found that COVID was 15th out of 18 national issues ranked by level of importance among Republicans. Among Democrats, it ranked 16th.
It's certainly likely that some of the new Republican class in the House owe their victories at least in part to the disastrous national COVID response. Exit polls indicated that voters cared most about inflation, energy prices and the economy, followed by abortion (particularly among Democrats) and crime.
At the more local level, as Reason online recently noted, Red State governors that eased restrictions and kept their economies open, such as Florida's Ron DeSantis and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, both cruised in their re-election bids:
"Across the country, Republican state executives who made a name for themselves by opposing business and school closures won reelection with far more comfortable margins than their first pre-pandemic runs."
I&I/TIPP publishes timely, unique and informative data each month from our polls on this topic and others of public interest. TIPP has a reputation for polling excellence, one that comes from being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor, and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.
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