Granite State News Collaborative
Democrats and Republicans are reacting differently to the ongoing pandemic and economic reopening here in New Hampshire, a divide that could make responding to the crisis more difficult, researchers say.
“Rehabilitating the state economy while continuing to deal with COVID-19 is a delicate balancing act, and the vast differences between Democrats and Republicans complicate both tasks immensely,” said Sean McKinley, a research assistant at the UNH Survey Center.
McKinley is an author of the New Hampshire COVID-19 Study, released on June 16. The study – conducted by researchers at the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine – asked 791 state residents about their behaviors during, and attitudes toward, the coronavirus pandemic. The study found vast differences in how people of different party affiliations are responding to the virus, with Republicans six times as likely as Democrats to prioritize reopening the economy over social distancing.
Over the past month, the percentage of people who believe that maintaining social distancing was more important than reopening the economy dropped among all groups, including different ages, genders and party affiliations. In early May, 56% of respondents believed that social distancing was more important than economic reopening, but that dropped to 48% by early June. The difference among groups was most marked when comparing party affiliations. By June, 73% of registered Democrats believed that social distancing was more important, a belief shared by 45% of unregistered or unaffiliated respondents, and just 25% of Republicans.
“Registered Democrats, Undeclareds and Republicans continue to adamantly disagree on this question, but all three groups shifted in their opinion by about the same margin since May,” the authors wrote.
Twenty-seven percent of respondents said social distancing and economic reopening are equally important.
The study found that overall New Hampshire residents are less stressed about their finances than they were earlier in the pandemic, but there were also partisan divides here. The number of Democrats who were “somewhat or extremely” stressed about family finances rose 3%, while that feeling dropped 13% among people without a party affiliation and 10% among Republicans. People younger than 30 and those with a high school education or less were the most likely to be concerned about their finances.
The partisan differences did not come as a surprise. They align with previous research about how different political beliefs affect behavior, said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology and senior fellow in the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH. Hamilton conducted research earlier this year that found Granite Staters are more trusting of scientists than they are of political leaders, but he says differing approaches to science can explain some of the difference in how Democrats and Republicans are responding to the pandemic.
“A virus doesn’t care about your political identity, but following Trump’s lead, many Republicans have made it a signifier of political identity to not take COVID-19 seriously, and not take mitigation steps such as staying home or wearing a mask,” Hamilton said in an email. “Democrats, conversely, have been more likely to trust scientists, who are pretty much unanimously saying that mitigation steps are important.”