America's two pandemics

America's two pandemics

This week, the COVID-19 death toll in the United States will surpass 100,000. Opinion polls show that right- and left-leaning voters in the United States have very different opinions on what that number means and what to do about it.

There's sharp disagreement, in particular, on where the true danger in the current crisis now lies. A recent survey found that 78% of Democrats, anxious to contain the spread of the virus, favor stay-at-home orders. Just 45% of Republicans, many of whom worry more over the economic damage that lockdowns inflict, agreed. About three-quarters of Democrats said they worry that lifting the lockdown will trigger a new wave of infection. Just a third of Republicans shared that fear.


Why do Americans view the issue so differently?

It's partly an age-old ideological divide. Voters on the right argue that the law exists to protect individual rights and freedoms against the encroachments of a power-hungry and/or incompetent government. Voters on the left insist that government has a responsibility to ensure public health and safety, even if that means placing limits on individual freedom. They also argue that the economy won't recover until the virus has been contained.

Media widen that divide. Americans tend to get their news from the TV channels, newspapers, and websites that correspond to their political values, and these media produce sharply different sets of information about the world. Social media amplify this effect by separating consumers into ideologically homogenous communities.

The Two Pandemics

But there's another important factor that explains the divergent views of COVID-19: The virus is hitting red (right-leaning) America and blue (left-leaning) America in very different ways.

Analysis from the New York Times finds that "counties won by President Trump in 2016 have reported just 27 percent of the virus infections and 21 percent of the deaths [in the United States] — even though 45 percent of Americans live in these communities." This is partly to do with population density, since urban areas, more immediately at risk from the quick spread of infectious disease, lean further left than do rural areas.

The economic impact, meanwhile, has so far skewed the other way. Other research shows that in states Trump won in 2016, 23 people have lost a job for every 1 person infected. In states that Democrat Hillary Clinton won, just 13 people have lost a job for every person infected.

No wonder then that red America worries more over the impact of job losses and bankrupt business while blue America is still relatively more concerned about the spread of the disease itself.

This may be changing. As COVID kills fewer people in New York City and other hard-hit urban areas where Democrats dominate, business closures and unemployment will become larger political issues, particularly as income inequality, already a hot political issue, widens. At the same time, the virus is now infecting and killing people in rural counties, where Republicans tend to dominate, at some of the highest rates in the United States. People in these areas live further apart, but many work in close quarters in plants and factories—and reluctance to take safety precautions early on in this crisis may finally be catching up with them.

In short, as epidemiological and economic concerns converge, Americans of left and right may have much more in common than they think.

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.

Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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Guilty: Eleven months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, on a Minneapolis street corner, we finally have a verdict in the murder trial. On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all three charges: second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was celebrated by advocates for racial justice and police reform. Last summer, video footage of Floyd suffocating to death as he cried out "I can't breathe" galvanized anti-racism protests across America (some of which turned violent) that went global. We're watching to see if the jury's verdict gives fresh impetus to the nationwide movement for police accountability and broader criminal justice reform, both of which have been met with fierce resistance from law-and-order conservatives and police unions. And we'll also be keeping an eye on the sentence, as Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for his crimes.

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120,000: Ukraine warns that Russia will soon have as many as 120,000 troops on its eastern border, a larger presence than when Moscow seized Crimea in 2014. Kyiv wants to join NATO to deter the Russian forces from invading the Donbas region, where about half the population are ethnic Russians.

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During a pandemic, the work of reporters around the world is particularly important to ensure transparency about the scope of outbreaks and the measures that governments are taking to contain them. But in many countries, press freedom has been declining since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Press freedom took a bit hit over the past year, as governments across the world doubled down on censoring media that criticized their handling of the pandemic, and locking up reporters for reporting the facts. Reporters Without Borders today published its annual World Press Freedom Index, which takes a microscope to every country, ranking the ability of its media to report freely and independently. Here's a look at how countries' scores have changed over the past year.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) and discusses Xi Jinping's message to the US, Russia's buildup at the Ukraine border, and Cuba's new leader.

What did you make of Xi Jinping's message to the US at China's annual Boao Forum?

Well, he didn't mention the United States directly, but he basically said that we don't accept hegemonic powers, we don't accept people that are setting the rules for other countries. Basically, consistently Xi Jinping saying that the Chinese want to be treated as equals with the United States. They're going to be rule makers for themselves. The Chinese political and economic system, every bit as legitimate as that of the United States. This is going to be a real fight. The American perspective is that the relationship between the two is going to be very competitive, whether it's a happy competition or an unhealthy competition depends on the Chinese. Xi Jinping's perspective is the Americans are not treating the Chinese with due respect. And that's going to play out on security, it's going to play out in climate, on the economy. I mean, you name it.

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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.

Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.

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