A Good Issue for Democrats

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The partisan divide in Covid attitudes has been so large that you might think Americans would be split roughly down the middle about which of the two political parties had handled the pandemic better.

But that’s not the case. Americans give the Democrats significantly higher marks, according to The Times’s latest Covid poll, which was conducted by Morning Consult:

This finding runs through multiple questions in the poll. When pollsters gave respondents a list of adjectives and asked which ones applied to each party, more adults described the Democratic approach as protective, decisive, practical and trustworthy. More respondents said that the words irresponsible and neglectful applied to the Republican Party.

On most of these questions, the gap tended to hover around 10 percentage points — a sign that most Americans still do prefer their own political party’s approach to Covid. Yet the Democrats’ advantage is striking among a couple of groups. Self-identified moderates give the Democratic Party much better marks, as do people ages 65 and above, even though older Americans lean Republican.

I think these views are grounded in reality. Regular readers know that I’ve been tough on some parents of the liberal approach to Covid. Many liberal communities kept schools closed for months on end, which harmed children, and some progressives have downplayed the mental-health damage from pandemic disruption and isolation.

But the Republican Party’s overall approach has departed from scientific reality much more. During the pandemic’s early weeks, President Donald Trump, in one of his many false statements about Covid, predicted, “I think the numbers are going to get progressively better as we go along.”

Since then, Republican political leaders and media figures have spoken so negatively about the vaccines that about 30 percent of Republican adults still have not received a shot. The vaccine gap, tragically, has resulted in a much higher Covid death rate in conservative parts of the country.

The ‘overbearing’ exception

Will the Democratic Party’s higher marks on Covid help the party make a difference in the upcoming midterms?

It seems unlikely to make a major difference, because only a tiny share of people consider the virus to be among the most important issues facing the country today, other polls have found. With effective vaccines and treatments widely available, most Americans now view Covid as a real but manageable risk.

But Covid could nonetheless have some relevance to the campaign, because it feeds into a larger pattern. Covid is one more issue on which many voters, including swing voters, view today’s Republican Party as out of touch. Other issues on that list include abortion, health care costs, taxes on the affluent and the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, polls suggest.

The Republican Party’s radicalism has kept the party from maintaining its once large lead in the polls, despite a problematic economy and the opposition party’s usual advantage in a midterm election. The latest polls are close. Political analysts say Republicans are modestly favored to retake the House, while Democrats are modestly favored to keep Senate control.

Democrats obviously have their own vulnerabilities, starting with inflation, which has helped push President Biden’s approval rating well below 50 percent. Many swing voters also view the Democratic Party as too liberal on social issues, including immigration, crime, gun control and political correctness. Working-class voters, in particular, often think that Democrats look down on them.

You can find one strand of this Democratic weakness in the Covid poll that Morning Consult did for The Times. Of the eight adjectives we gave to respondents, they applied only one of the negative descriptions to the Democratic approach more often than to the Republican approach: overbearing.

A progressive research group called GBAO found similar views in focus groups this spring with a multiracial mix of voters who leaned Democratic. “In Virginia specifically, a handful of respondents wondered if Democrats were ‘holding onto’ Covid and unfairly judging each other,” GBAO’s memo concluded. It quoted one person as saying: “It feels like there’s a lot of Democrats who want it to keep going, they don’t want it to end … to keep their moral high ground.”

The Biden administration has tried to avoid this hectoring tone and instead to weigh both the benefits and costs of Covid precautions. Biden has encouraged Americans both to get their booster shots and to get on with their lives. His public health advisers have not pushed for broad mask mandates in the pandemic’s third year. “Today, Covid no longer controls our lives,” Biden said in Philadelphia last week.

Douglas Rivers, the chief scientist at YouGov, another polling firm, told me that Biden’s approval rating on Covid is substantially higher than on many other issues — and also substantially higher than Trump’s approval rating on Covid. Biden’s balanced approach will probably not decide many Americans’ votes this fall. But it is in tune with public opinion, as well as the bulk of scientific evidence.

THE LATEST NEWS

Britain’s New Leader

  • Britain’s Conservative Party chose Liz Truss to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister, after colleagues tired of Johnson’s scandals forced him out.

  • Truss has promised lower taxes and smaller government, and she has celebrated post-Brexit Britain as an “aspiration nation.”

  • As a 19-year-old Oxford student in 1994, she called for a referendum to abolish the British monarchy. (She has long since embraced it as being good for Britain’s democracy.)

  • In his final speech as prime minister, Johnson defended his premiership, but pledged support to Truss.

War in Ukraine

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Opinions

Canceling student debt relieves not just a financial burden but also an emotional one, Astra Taylor argues.

Education remains the most powerful way to promote social mobility, John Friedman writes.

No world leader mattered more in the late 20th century than Mikhail Gorbachev, James Baker writes.

When it comes to the culture, we don’t have a very good way of talking about redemption or who should be afforded it, Jessica Bennett writes.

Decisions looming for the Yankees: Aaron Judge hit his 54th home run of the season yesterday, and his third in as many games, as New York strung together two straight wins. His impending free agency remains front and center, but general manager Brian Cashman could be on the hot seat regardless.

Clemson opens with a win: The Tigers pulled away from Georgia Tech in the second half last night to rout the Yellow Jackets 41-10. Clemson also got a glimpse of its future with a late-game appearance by true freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik. Early takeaways? He’s legit.

ARTS AND IDEAS

A musical preview

It’s the time of year when new shows are coming to Broadway. Among the musicals, as Times critic Jesse Green explains:

One revival: “1776,” about the Declaration of Independence. It will feature a cast of women, nonbinary and transgender performers.

One jukebox: “A Beautiful Noise,” about the life and songs of Neil Diamond.

Two Hollywood adaptations: “Almost Famous,” based on the 2000 coming-of-age film, and “Some Like It Hot,” based on the 1959 Billy Wilder comedy.

Moving from Off Broadway: “Kimberly Akimbo,” about a girl with a premature-aging condition. And “KPOP,” about the Korean pop music industry, an Off Broadway hit from 2017.

From London: “& Juliet” is a mash-up of several Broadway tropes — updated Shakespeare, romantic fantasy and hit parade.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

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