Conservative Americans' adherence to disinformation spread by QAnon runs deeper than previously believed, recent polling found.
Although just one in 10 adults who self-identify as center-right have a favorable view of QAnon, a survey conducted by Citizen Data found that 62 percent of conservatives believe in at least one core conspiracy theory born from the movement. This analysis, released Friday, is the first part of Citizen Data's year-long project "to deeply understand" the American political right. Future analyses will be focused on voting access, electoral reform, Covid-19 and climate change, among other topics.
Conservatives with a favorable view of QAnon were more likely to believe in multiple conspiracy theories. More than two-thirds of those favorable toward QAnon rated three or more theories as true, compared to one-fifth of those who are unsure about QAnon, and 12 percent of those who are unfavorable.
Citizen Data — which is led by former third-party vice presidential candidate Mindy Finn and provides data resources for nonpartisan and cross-partisan groups — found that 60 percent of Republicans believe the movement's original and baseless conspiracy theory that a global network of pedophiles are torturing and sexually abusing children in satanic rituals. This is a huge increase from last fall when a separate survey found only a third of conservatives believed this was true.
More than half of the respondents also erroneously believe Donald Trump to be the winner of the 2020 election. Those who endorse the "Big Lie," compared to those who reject it, were nearly three times as likely to have a favorable view of QAnon (16 percent versus 6 percent) and half as likely to have an unfavorable view (29 percent versus 61 percent).
A significant number of conservatives also accepted as true conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic and the Covid-19 vaccine:
- 16 percent said they believe vaccines contained tracking chips.
- 23 percent said they believe the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax.
- 24 percent said they believe the government is covering up a link between Covid-19 and autism.
One-third of the Republicans surveyed said they would not get the Covid-19 vaccine.
Additionally, Citizen Data found that racial attitudes among white conservatives (92 percent of those surveyed) were powerful predictors of QAnon favorability and belief. While the survey did not explicitly say belief in QAnon was correlated with white supremacy, it did find that respondents with strong senses of white identity and hostility toward people of color were more likely to support QAnon.
QAnon belief was also found to be more prevalent among young Republicans. One-third of conservatives under 35 who participated in the 2020 primary and general elections gave QAnon a positive rating, compared to 22 percent of older voters who did the same.
Differences in how men and women view QAnon were significant in the contexts of educational attainment and political knowledge. Women without a bachelor's degree were more likely to believe in the conspiracy theories than men with the same education level. Conversely, men with little political knowledge favored QAnon more than women with the same unfamiliarity with politics.
Overall, respondents who reported higher levels of political knowledge were less likely to believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, regardless of their news consumption habits. This finding in particular points to an opportunity for countering the spread of these falsehoods.
"Increasing political engagement and political education may help to inoculate American society against conspiracy movements," the survey found.
Citizen Data surveyed 5,918 American adults who identify as center-right between May 16 and June 3. The margin of error was 1.4 percentage points.
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Even though more Americans are getting vaccinated against Covid-19, inoculation rates remain significantly depressed in some conservative and rural parts of the country.
More Republicans are opting to get vaccinated, but many remain hesitant due to the polarizing rhetoric that has persisted throughout the coronavirus pandemic, according to research released Monday by Citizen Data. Vaccine hesitancy is particularly high in rural, conservative areas, the nonpartisan research organization found.
Citizen Data's analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Census Bureau data found that vaccine hesitancy is most severe in parts of Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia. And by folding in its own ideology modeling, the research group determined a hesitancy score (0 for least hesitant to 100 for most hesitant) by media market.
At the top of the list is Dothan, Ala., a city of 261,000 that borders Georgia, with a vaccine hesitancy score of 100. Citizen Data determined 3 in 10 adults there are considered "rural conservative" and just 6 percent of its overall adult population is vaccinated.
The rest of the "most hesitant" list includes: Harrisonburg, Va.; Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va.; Albany, Ga.; Clarksburg and Weston, W.Va.; North Platte, Neb.; Macon, Ga.; Charlottesville, Va.; Amarillo, Texas; and Springfield, Mo.
Source: Citizen Data
Although these areas and others continue to see vaccine aversion from conservatives, polling conducted in April by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows more Republicans are becoming amenable to it.
As of last month, 55 percent of Republicans surveyed said they had already received at least one dose or planned on getting vaccinated as soon as possible — an increase of 9 percentage points from March. Meanwhile the percentage of Republicans who said they would "definitely not" get vaccinated decreased from 29 percent in March to 20 percent in April.
Democrats remained the most enthusiastic about the vaccine, with 80 percent saying in April they had already received at least one dose or planned on getting it soon. This is only a slight increase from 79 percent in March.
Independents also saw a small increase in vaccination enthusiasm, from 57 percent in March to 59 percent in April.
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Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation.
At a time when many Americans lament that members of Congress representing the two major parties don't have anything in common, there is one very sad metric they share: Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are on the receiving end of a massive increase in hostile messages and death threats.
The level of vitriol flowing through the internet and phone lines to Congress is greater than at any other time in American history. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton testified at a congressional hearing recently that the number of death threats doubled in 2021 compared to last year.
It is impossible to diminish the emotional and psychological scar this leaves with members of Congress and their families, but there is another group deeply affected that often goes unnoticed — congressional staff. Members of Congress don't answer their own phones or open emails sent to their offices — thousands of congressional staff are on the front lines of our democracy and getting the brunt of angry, racist, hurtful and dangerous speech that is polluting our nation. In a snap poll of congressional staff a few weeks ago the Congressional Management Foundation asked whether staff had recently experienced direct insults or threatening messages or communications. More than three-quarters said they had.
Perhaps one can merely cast aside concerns for staffers' welfare with a simple, "Well, that's what they signed up for when they were hired." No, not exactly. Congressional staff score amazingly high in any assessment of their level of job engagement and dedication to their profession. Staffers in Congress are not alone in their passion to help despite stressful and demanding conditions. First responders, nurses, Navy SEALS and others also make sacrifices resulting from their commitment to serve. The difference between them and congressional staff is this: most Americans who make sacrifices for others are lauded for those sacrifices, whereas congressional staff are ridiculed, belittled and literally spat upon in the public square. There comes a point where the abuse overwhelms the passion, the negativity erases all meaning of why they jumped on this crazy roller coaster called Congress to begin with.
Adding to the horror and pain is that many staffers are still working from home, and sharing phone answering duties with office colleagues. Without warning, a staffer picks up her phone to hear these chilling words: "We're coming for the congresswoman, her family, you, your family ... and we know where you live!" Before the staffer can hang up, the caller has cursed at her several times. This episode has played out countless times in the congressional community since the siege on January 6. Just think about that scene in an American home — one minute a staffer is fielding a death threat, the next moment her 6-year-old appears at her home office door asking for a peanut butter sandwich.
Leaders in Congress don't have to accept this abuse without responding. Experts in psychology and security say managers should demonstrate empathy and understanding of what staff are going through, encourage self-care and change policies to reduce the possibility that staff will be receiving "live" death threats by phone. "Leaders have to make it safe in the office for staff to express feelings and for staff to take care of themselves," said Brian Baird, a former member of Congress and clinical psychologist who has been conducting staff training sessions with CMF during the pandemic. "Building and modeling a culture of support is part of what can come out of this pandemic," he said. "We need to work on our team support and not let people fend for themselves."
CMF also strongly recommends that congressional offices temporarily stop taking live calls and move all incoming calls to voicemail. We know that some members will balk at this — however, CMF has worked with offices thathave moved to this policy and have seen no constituent push back. People are just fine getting a call back in two to four hours. These offices also report that staff are relieved from the fear of the next call. Managers: This means such a policy would result in GREATER job engagement by staff, improved morale and likely more staff retention.
For too long staff in Congress have been viewed as expendable and easily replaced. This not only has a tangible negative impact on the institution of Congress, it exacts a terrible toll on these amazing public servants. A recent news story examined the impact of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the aftermath of that attack on the mental and physical well-being of congressional staff. One staffer said: "Staff in general have been feeling like we're invisible, like nobody is looking out for us." Staff are the lifeblood of this institution, and the culture needs to change to treat them accordingly. Part of that culture of change should be to acknowledge the distressing and negative effects that this pandemic and the events of Jan. 6 are having on congressional staff, and take tangible steps to protect employees from these unbearable attacks to their mental well-being.
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VanDusky-Allen is an assistant professor of political science at Boise State University. Shvetsova is a professor of political science and economics at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, a partisan divide has existed over the appropriate government response to the public health crisis. Democrats have been more likely to favor stricter policies such as prolonged economic shutdowns, limits on gathering in groups and mask mandates. Republicans overall have favored less stringent policies.
As political scientists and public health scholars, we've been studying political responses to the pandemic and their impacts. In research published in the summer of 2020, we found that "sub-governments," which in the U.S. means state governments, tended to have a bigger impact on the direction of pandemic policies than the federal government. Now, as data on last year's case and death rates emerge, we're looking at whether the political party in the governor's office became a good predictor of public health outcomes as Covid-19 moved across the country.
Looking at states' Covid-19 case and death rates, researchers are finding the more stringent policies typical of Democratic governors led to lower rates of infections and deaths, compared to the pandemic responses of the average Republican governor. In preparation for future pandemics, it may be worth considering how to address the impact that a state government's partisan leanings can have on the scope and severity of a public health crisis.
Comparing responses by Democratic and Republican governors
To compare and chart our state-by-state COVID-19 policy stringency data, we've developed our "Protective Policy Index." To calculate this index, we took into account the types of policies state governments adopted over the course of the pandemic, such as school closings, lockdowns and mandatory mask mandates. We combined the adopted measures for each state over time to calculate the index. Higher values of the index indicate states adopted more stringent measures.
When we charted the policy responses of Democratic and Republican governors between May 1 and July 31, 2020, they revealed that heading into May, states led by Democrats generally took more stringent measures than those led by Republicans. Over the next eight weeks or so, as Democratic-led states began to slowly reopen, they continued to maintain more stringent measures on average than Republican-led states. By July, Democratic governors began to roll back their reopenings amid some signs of a new pandemic wave, while Republican-led states largely maintained the same level of stringency.
With that information established, we could begin to explore whether there was a relationship between COVID-19 policy stringency in different states, and their rates of pandemic cases and deaths.
According to a study released in March, both case and death rates were higher on average in states led by Republican governors during the second half of 2020. The first map represents rates of Cocis-19 cases between June 1 and July 31, 2020 as reported by the CDC. The second map represents CDC estimates of excess mortality rates – the number of deaths above the average norm – between June 1 and August 31, 2020. The taller spikes indicate higher case and death rates.
Next, to study the relationship between the stringency of a state's pandemic responses and its rates of Covid-19 cases and deaths, we mapped each state's rating on the Protective Policy Index to the same CDC data. The results show that more stringent policies were generally associated with fewer cases and deaths.
All of these findings, in conjunction with those of our own research, suggest that amid the current deep divide in U.S. politics, it's possible to forecast public health outcomes based on whether a state is led by a Republican or a Democrat. For large chunks of time in 2020, states led by Republicans overall had higher average case and death rates from Covid-19, in part due to their state governments adopting less stringent policies to quell the virus. It is important to note, however, that not all states fit perfectly into this pattern. For example, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, adopted relatively stricter measures and this likely led to better health outcomes.
America's polarized health care politics
The differences we discovered between red and blue states in our analysis did not surprise our team. After all, a partisan divide over health care in the U.S. existed before Covid-19. During President Bill Clinton's administration in the 1990s, there was a clear and growing partisan divide over health care reform. During President Barack Obama's administration, Democrats supported the Affordable Care Act and the federal government's response to the H1N1 virus, while nearly all Republicans opposed both measures.
We already know that partisan divisions over health care in the U.S. can worsen public health. For example, despite the evidence that the ACA has had a positive effect on individual health care outcomes, Republicans have consistently fought against it. Republican-led states that chose not to adopt Medicaid expansion have not experienced all the positive benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
For example, states such as Texas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi that have not expanded Medicaid have the largest relative percentage of uninsured residents in the country. In some Republican-led states that did opt for Medicaid expansion, it was adopted with new restrictions. This has ultimately led to worse outcomes.
These long-established partisan divisions have also influenced Americans' polarized views of the government's proper role in addressing the pandemic. This divide grew so wide during 2020 that at some points it was as if people were living in alternate realities based on their partisan leanings. At times an American's political affiliation indicated whether or not they would acknowledge even that a pandemic was really happening.
Where we go from here
Now that mass vaccination against Covid-19 is underway across the country, Americans have hope that life will soon get "back to normal." But until enough people are vaccinated to halt the spread of the virus, public health officials are warning that we are not quite there yet. They are encouraging states to maintain some restrictions that slow the spread of the virus, especially considering that there are more contagious variants spreading across the country.
Overwhelming evidence suggests that differences between Republican and Democratic officials on health policy have had life-or-death consequences during the pandemic. But recent history suggests that in the next public health crisis, governments across the U.S. may once again focus more on politics than on policies grounded in the best available science. Experience also suggests that even when this leads to bad health outcomes, Americans aren't likely to rethink the partisan divide over health care.
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