Shana Kushner Gadarian, Sara Wallace Goodman, and Thomas B. PepinskyNov 28, 2022
The Deadly Toll of Partisanship in the Age of COVID
Princeton University Press 2022
None of us really want to relive our first encounters with COVID-19 and the disruptions to our lives, to say nothing of the anxiety and concern about the life-threatening nature of this virus as it spread around the globe. At the same time, Shana Kushner Gadarian, Sara Wallace Goodman, and Thomas B. Pepinsky ask us to reflect on our experiences and the responses to COVID-19 in the United States in their new book, Pandemic Politics: The Deadly Toll of Partisanship in the Age of COVID (Princeton UP, 2022). Kushner Gadarian, Wallace Goodman, and Pepinsky were able to put sizeable surveys into the field starting as early as March 2020, as the pandemic was taking hold in the United States and as our daily lives started to “shut down.” The three authors continued to send out the same survey to the same individuals over the course of the next two years, eventually pulling together data from six waves of surveys of some 3000 Americans. The center of the research design was to try to examine individual attitudes towards COVID-19 itself, and how people responded to the pandemic threat and the mitigation efforts. Because of the capacity to survey the same individuals over time, the authors were able to see the way that people changed their thinking as COVID itself mutated and re-situated itself in different parts of the country. The conclusion from all of this data and information is that, in the United States, partisanship swamped everything else in terms of how individuals thought about, reacted to, and responded to COVID-19.
Pandemic Politics explores the way that citizens were picking up on different signals from partisan leadership because there were differing approaches to how to handle and respond to COVID-19. This was unique in the United States in comparison to other countries. Because of competing messages coming from different authoritative individuals (like the president of the United States, governors, state and local level health authorities, CDC and NIH experts, etc.) and, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a significant knowledge gap as to what to do and how to keep ourselves safe, many Americans found themselves confused and concerned. As a result, the data indicates that Republicans and Democrats were hearing and seeing different information, different advice, and this continued and became more entrenched as the pandemic continued. The authors also note that the structural foundation for these partisan differences were already present before the pandemic—there were pre-existing conditions within the body politic that subsequently led to the sclerotic partisan reactions to the pandemic itself and to the efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of the new book, The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022). Email her comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @gorenlj.