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Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates. Misinformation is to


People protest a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal workers on Oct. 28 in New York City. Polling, vaccination and mortality data all suggest that Republicans lag far behind in vaccination and are suffering the worst consequences as a result.

David Dee Delgado/Getty Images


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David Dee Delgado/Getty Images


People protest a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal workers on Oct. 28 in New York City. Polling, vaccination and mortality data all suggest that Republicans lag far behind in vaccination and are suffering the worst consequences as a result.

David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That’s according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic.

NPR looked at deaths per 100,000 people in roughly 3,000 counties across the U.S. from May 2021, the point at which vaccinations widely became available. People living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in November 2020 had 2.73 times the death rates of those that went for Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates.

In October, the reddest tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the bluest tenth, according to Charles Gaba, an independent health care analyst who’s been tracking partisanship trends during the pandemic and helped to review NPR’s methodology. Those numbers have dropped slightly in recent weeks, Gaba says: “It’s back down to around 5.5 times higher.”

The trend was robust, even when controlling for age, which is the primary demographic risk of COVID-19 mortality. The data also reveal a major contributing factor to the death rate difference: The higher the vote share for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate.

The analysis only looked at the geographic location of COVID-19 deaths. The exact political views of each person taken by the disease remains unknowable. But the strength of the association, combined with polling information about vaccination, strongly suggests that Republicans are being disproportionately affected.

Recent polling shows that partisanship is now this single strongest identifying predictor of whether someone is vaccinated. Polling also shows that mistrust in official sources of information and exposure to misinformation, about both COVID-19 and the vaccines, run high among Republicans.

“An unvaccinated person is three times as likely to lean Republican as they are to lean Democrat,” says Liz Hamel, vice president of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy think tank that tracks attitudes toward vaccination. Political affiliation is now the strongest indicator of whether someone is vaccinated, she says: “If I wanted to guess if somebody was vaccinated or not and I could…



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