Pew: Partisan Gap over Coronavirus Health Threat Hits Record High

Discarded low dead space syringes, used to administer the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine, and vaccine vials lie in a waste bin at the Clalit Health Services in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Beit Hanina, in the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by …
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

The divide between Republicans’ and Democrats’ perceptions of the public health threat posed by the coronavirus has reached an all-time high, the Pew Research Center revealed in a September 15 report.

While Americans generally agree that the coronavirus poses a major threat to the economy, they hold wildly divergent views regarding the gravity of the disease for the health of society at large, Pew found.

Currently, more than twice as many Democrats and independents who lean Democratic (80 percent) say the coronavirus is a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, while well under half (38 percent) of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same.

“The partisan gap on this question is as wide as it has been at any point during the pandemic,” Pew noted.

Taken as a whole, a majority of Americans (61 percent) say the coronavirus poses a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, while 33 percent say the virus is a minor threat, and 6 percent say it is not a threat.

More Americans (72 percent), however, say the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to the U.S. economy.

Pew also found that vaccination status affects perceptions of the public health threat posed by the coronavirus, with 70 percent of vaccinated adults seeing it as a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, compared with just 37 percent of adults who have not received a vaccine.

Given that the coronavirus is considered — in varying degrees — a threat both to public health and the economy, some have stepped forward to propose innovative solutions that more thoroughly address both issues.

Influential journalist Glenn Greenwald, for example, wondered aloud why Americans are unwilling to apply a cost-benefit analysis to the coronavirus problem and measures intended to curb its spread.

In an August 25 essay titled “The Bizarre Refusal to Apply Cost-Benefit Analysis to COVID Debates,” Greenwald noted frankly that in nearly every realm of public policy, “Americans embrace policies which they know will kill people, sometimes large numbers of people.”

“They do so not because they are psychopaths but because they are rational: they assess that those deaths that will inevitably result from the policies they support are worth it in exchange for the benefits those policies provide,” he stated, which makes one wonder why such an analysis has been shunned when dealing with the coronavirus.

Greenwald compared measures employed to stem the diffusion of the coronavirus to those that could be employed to save lives in other areas, if that were our only concern.

For example, the easiest and most effective way to use public policy to save hundreds of thousands of lives would be to ban the use of automobiles, Greenwald observed, or at least to lower the nationwide speed limit to 25mph.

This simple measure would drastically reduce the 1.35 million roadway deaths that occur worldwide every year, Greenwald declared, without even counting the vast numbers of those who are injured, often irreparably.

The reason society accepts this massive loss of life is not a lack of caring, Greenwald noted, but because consciously or unconsciously people employ a rational framework of cost-benefit analysis that evaluates the possible savings but also “the immense costs generated by policies that would prevent those deaths.”

“We never opt for a society-altering policy on the ground that ‘any lives saved make it imperative to embrace’ precisely because such a primitive mindset ignores all the countervailing costs which this life-saving policy would generate,” he stated.

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