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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.

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Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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