Likewise, when using cell phone tracking data to measure changes in physical distance during the pandemic, a study found that in counties that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, there was a reduction 24% in general travel and visits to non-essential places (like restaurants) between March and May 2020 compared to a 38% reduction in counties that voted for Ms. Clinton.
Again, one way to read this conclusion is that Republican-leaning counties have reduced activity less than Democratic-leaning counties. Or, it could be used to point out that at the start of the pandemic, people who are both Republicans- and Democratic-leaning counties have increased their physical distance significantly, implying changes in behavior. In addition, even in Democratic-leaning counties, cuts in activity were still limited to 38%.
One place where politicization seems to have profoundly affected actual behavior is vaccination. Covid-19 vaccine data indicates Republicans are more likely to be unvaccinated than Democrats, meaning Republicans will most likely have higher hospitalization and death rates from Covid afterward. .
But it’s unclear why vaccination rates are so different between Republicans and Democrats.
Some may argue that the differences in Covid-19 vaccination rates between Republicans and Democrats simply reflect historical and underlying differences in beliefs about vaccines. If this were true, we would expect to see similar differences in vaccination rates between Republicans and Democrats for other vaccines. But we don’t. One study found very little difference between Republicans and Democrats for common adolescent vaccines.
Another explanation for the gap in Covid-19 vaccination rates is that it is itself a year-and-a-half byproduct of intense political polarization that has highlighted the differences between groups that may seem bigger than they really are. This is consistent with studies that have demonstrated the direct effect of media polarization on public health behaviors.
People may miss important nuances of studies examining the relationship between policy and meeting public health recommendations. Some studies use objective information about people’s activities, such as cell phone data tracking. Other studies assessing political polarization and Covid-19 have relied on self-reported behaviors. A major downside to surveys like these, like a 2020 survey of young adults living in California, is that they capture what people say they are doing, not necessarily what they actually do. This type of analysis can lead to conclusions that the ways in which people go about their daily lives are more distinct than similar.
Political polarization during the pandemic underscored the differences between Americans and downplayed the experiences we shared. Many of us now probably think that our behaviors and experiences during the pandemic are very different from those of our peers across the political aisle. When it comes to things that we enjoy, that is not true, and we have to remember that.