“Coronavirus has come to Trump country . . . After being centered in blue states, cases are now being added faster in red ones,” the headline above a Philip Bump article declares in the Washington Post.
Measuring both political preferences or coronavirus cases by state results leads to some pretty broad generalizations. For example, New York City is perceived as deep blue for good reasons, but Staten Island voted for Trump, 56 percent to 41 percent. The coronavirus swept through Staten Island and had 13,748 cases and 1,026 deaths, as of Wednesday afternoon. New Jersey is a blue state that almost always elects Democrats statewide. But Trump carried Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex, and Warren counties in the northern part of the state in 2016, and those counties have 1,049, 6,652, 1,170, and 1,205 cases respectively, and 67, 638, 151, and 139 deaths respectively — fewer than the bluer counties closer to New York City, but hardly unscathed.
Do these areas not count as “Trump country” because they’re red patches in states that generally vote Democratic statewide?
The same phenomenon works in reverse. Arizona is a red state that usually elects Republicans statewide; right now Maricopa County is getting hit hard, with almost 24,000 cases as of this writing. But Trump carried this county by just three points in 2016.
Bump writes, “Coronavirus cases spiked in blue states but were generally more limited in states Trump won in 2016. That’s no longer the case.” I suppose if you squint and hand-wave away data that doesn’t fit the narrative, yes. Didn’t Trump win Michigan, and wasn’t that one of the states hit harder early on? It still ranks ninth in the country. Pennsylvania ranks eighth, and Florida ranks seventh. Ohio had one of the fastest-spreading spikes in April — does it count as one of those blue states? Is our measuring stick for red or blue based upon who won in the presidential race in 2016, or the current the party of the governor? If that’s the case, is Maryland a red state or a blue state?
Bump writes, “Texas, Florida and Arizona all saw highs in the number of new daily cases this week.” Yes . . . and so did California, more than 4,000 cases in a single day. Oregon and Nevada set records, too. If someone wanted to point to those states, and say, “These blue states that voted for Hillary Clinton and are run by Democratic governors are experiencing record numbers of cases,” that would be equally accurate. It’s not because of the governors they have, it’s because the process of reopening society and the economy to any degree was inevitably going to lead to more people spreading the virus.
Big cities on the coasts got hit first and hardest because they have a lot of international air travelers, high population density, and, particularly in the case of New York, a lot of people riding the subways and buses — enclosed places and circumstances where it is hard to socially distance. The virus took longer to reach more rural states — but once it arrived, it could spread quickly, as we saw at the meatpacking plants.
There’s little evidence that blue states are handling the virus one way and red states another. Blue state governors want to get their economies moving too, and red state governors want to prevent further infections and deaths, too. Everybody’s trying to manage the risk as best they can and are hoping that their state’s citizens are making good choices. As much as some people might really want to see a “blue states are good and handling the pandemic better, while red states are bad and handling the pandemic worse,” the evidence to support that conclusion just isn’t there.