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Is vs. ought in the study of public opinion: Coronavirus “opening up” edition

I came across this argument between two of my former co-bloggers which illustrates a general difficulty when thinking about political attitudes, which is confusion between two things: (a) public opinion, and (b) what we want public opinion to be.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for many years, ever since our Red State Blue State project.

Longtime blog readers might recall our criticism of political reporter Michael Barone, who told his readers that richer people voted for Democrats and poorer people voted for Republicans—even though the data showed the opposite. And Barone was a data guy! I coined a phrase, “second-order availability bias,” just to to try to understand this way of thinking.

The latest example is the debate over how fast to open up the economy. A clear description that I’ve seen of the confusion comes in this op-ed by Michelle Goldberg, who writes:

Lately some commentators have suggested that the coronavirus lockdowns pit an affluent professional class comfortable staying home indefinitely against a working class more willing to take risks to do their jobs. . . . Writing in The Post, Fareed Zakaria tried to make sense of the partisan split over coronavirus restrictions, describing a “class divide” with pro-lockdown experts on one side and those who work with their hands on the other. . . . The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan wrote: “Here’s a generalization based on a lifetime of experience and observation. The working-class people who are pushing back have had harder lives than those now determining their fate.”

But, no, it seems that Zakaria and Noonan are wrong. Goldberg continues:

The assumptions underlying this generalization, however, are not based on even a cursory look at actual data. In a recent Washington Post/Ipsos survey, 74 percent of respondents agreed that the “U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Agreement was slightly higher — 79 percent — among respondents who’d been laid off or furloughed. . . .

Goldberg can also do storytelling:

Meatpacking workers have been sickened with coronavirus at wildly disproportionate rates, and all over the country there have been protests outside of meatpacking plants demanding that they be temporarily closed, sometimes by the workers’ own children. Perhaps because those demonstrators have been unarmed, they’ve received far less coverage than those opposed to lockdown orders. . . . Meanwhile, financial elites are eager for everyone else to resume powering the economy. . . . when it comes to the coronavirus, willingness to ignore public health authorities isn’t a sign of flinty working-class realism. Often it’s the ultimate mark of privilege.

OK, that’s just a story too. But I was curious about the people who Goldberg cited at the beginning of her article, who so confidently got things wrong. So I clicked on each story.

First, Zakaria. He does a David Brooks-style shtick, with lines like, “Imagine you are an American who works with his hands — a truck driver, a construction worker, an oil rig mechanic — and you have just lost your job because of the lockdowns, as have more than 36 million people. You turn on the television and hear medical experts, academics, technocrats and journalists explain that we must keep the economy closed — in other words, keep you unemployed — because public health is important. . . .”

In this riff, Zakaria is exhibiting a failure of imagination. He talks about truck drivers who want to go back to work, but not about meatpacking workers who don’t want to be exposed to coronavirus. He talks about various experts who want to “keep you unemployed” but does not talk about the financial elites, not to mention “academics, technocrats and journalists” such as himself who are eager to see everyone else get back to work—even though they can keep working from home as long as they want. Do they just miss going into the TV studo?

There’s also a gender dimension to Zakaria’s article, in that he listed about three stereotypically male occupations. In general, men are less concerned about health and safety than women are. So he’s stacking the deck by talking about truck drivers, construction workers, and oil rig mechanics, rather than, say, nurse’s aides, housecleaners, and preschool teachers.

Zakaria is making an error, imputing a statement that lower-social-class Americans want to open up the economy, even though the data don’t show this, and even though there are lots of logical reasons to understand why comfortable work-at-home pundits could be just fine with opening up, given that they get to pick and choose when and where to go to work.

Next, Noonan. Unfortunately this link is paywalled, but I do see the sub-headline, “Those who are anxious to open up the economy have led harder lives than those holding out for safety.” Perhaps someone with a Wall Street Journal subscription can tell me what data she cites on this one.

It could be that Noonan is right and Goldberg is wrong here. Goldberg cited this one survey, but that’s just one survey, and it was from 27 Apr to 4 May, and opinions have surely changed since then. For now I’ll go with Goldberg’s take because she brought data to the table.

The analyst I really trust for this sort of thing is sociologist David Weakliem. Let’s go to his blog and see if he wrote anything on this . . . yeah! Here it is:

Some people have said that the coronavirus epidemic will bring Americans together, uniting us behind a goal that transcends political differences. It doesn’t seem to be working out that way–whether to ease restrictions has become a political issue, with Republicans more in favor of a quick end and Democrats more in favor of keeping restrictions. There have been some claims that it’s also a class issue. The more common version is that the “elites” can work at home, so they are happy to keep going on that way, but most ordinary people can’t, so they want to get back to work (see this article for an entertainingly unhinged example). But you could also argue it the other way—affluent people are getting fed up with online meetings, and tend to have jobs that would let them keep more space from their co-workers, so they want to get back to normal; less affluent people have jobs that would expose them to infection, so they want to stay safe. I couldn’t find individual-level data for any survey, but I did find one report that breaks opinions down by some demographic variables.

It’s a Washington Post – University of Maryland survey from 21-26 Apr.

Here’s what Weakliem found:

The most relevant question is “Do you think current restrictions on how restaurants, stores and other businesses operate in your state are appropriate, are too restrictive or are they not restrictive enough?”

Too restrictive Appropriate Not enough
Republicans 29% 60% 11%
Democrats 8% 72% 19%

Although majorities of both parties say (or said—the survey was April 21-26) they were appropriate, there is a pretty big difference.

By education:

College grads 15% 72% 12%
Others 18% 63% 18%

or restricting it to whites:

College grads 17% 72% 10%
Others 20% 64% 15%

To the extent there is a difference, it’s that less educated people are more likely to have “extreme” opinions of both kinds. Maybe that’s because more educated people tend to have more trust in the authorities. But basically, it’s not a major factor.

A few other variables: income is similar to education, with lower income people more likely to take both “extreme” positions; non-whites, women, and younger people more likely to say “not restrictive enough” and less likely to say “too restrictive”. All of those differences are considerably smaller than the party differences. Region and urban/rural residence seem relevant in principle, but aren’t included in the report.

Interesting about moreless educated or higherlower-income people taking more extreme positions, which gives a slightly different twist on Zakaria and Noonan. As with red state blue state, pundits love talking about the working class, but many of the most intense battles are happening within the elite.

But I promised I’d talk with you about my former co-bloggers . . .

Here’s Robin Hanson from 5 May:

The public is feeling the accumulated pain, and itching to break out. . . . Elites are now loudly and consistently saying that this is not time to open; we must stay closed and try harder to contain. . . . So while the public will uniformly push for more opening, elites and experts push in a dozen different directions. . . . elites and experts don’t speak with a unified voice, while the public does.

This makes no sense to me. To the extent that the polls were capturing public opinion, the public was speaking with a uniform voice in favor of restrictions—the exact opposite of what Hanson was saying.

My guess is that Hanson was frustrated that “experts” and “elites” (in his words) did not agree with his opening-up policy preferences, so he was enlisting “the public” to be on his side. Unfortunately, the public did not hold his position either.

Hanson continues, “Many are reading me as claiming that the public is unified in the sense of agreeing on everything. But I only said that the public pushes will will tend to be correlated in a particular direction, in contrast with the elite pushes which are much more diverse. Some also read me as claiming that strong majorities of the public support fast opening, but again that’s not what I said.” I can’t figure out what he’s getting at here. He said, “The public is feeling the accumulated pain, and itching to break out” . . . but the polls didn’t support that take. He also said that the public “speaks with a unified voice”—but, to the extent that was true, the voice was the opposite of what Hanson was saying. Maybe now things have changed and the public is more divided on their policy preferences regarding restrictions or openings—but, if so, that’s really the opposite of a unified voice.

Hanson also cites a couple of polls he did on twitter, but he uses these incoherently, first as evidence of opinions of elites and experts, then second as evidence of public opinion. I don’t think twitter polls really represent elite opinion, expert opinion, or public opinion, but I guess it all depends on who responds.

And here’s Henry Farrell from 5 May, saying pretty much what I said above, but in a more structured way:

There is indeed survey evidence to suggest that the public has strong preferences on re-opening. The problem is that that evidence (or, at least, the evidence that I am aware of), is that large majorities of people don’t want to reopen anytime soon. . . . the best empirical evidence I know of as to what individual members of the public want runs exactly contrary to the claims made by public choice scholars (who are presumably methodological individualists) about what the public wants.

It’s not clear to me that Farrell should be taking the blogs of two people (Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen, who linked to Hansen’s post) as representative of “public choice scholars” more generally. But Farrell does acknowledge they may be “talking about ‘what the public will inevitably end up wanting in the long run as the costs of freezing much economic activity become clear.'” The trouble with this sort of in-the-long-term-the-public-will-agree-with-me attitude, as Farrell points out, is (a) people might agree with you for the wrong reasons (maybe for reasons of partisanship rather than policy), and (b) “the problem with such loosely expressed arguments about what ‘the public wants’ is that they’re likely to blur together ideological priors and empirical claims in a manner that makes them impossible to distinguish.”

I agree. This is the public-opinion version of the difficulties that arise when people make empirical statements without the data.

If you’re interested, Farrell and Hanson continue the discussion here and here. The conversation goes in a different direction than my focus here: Farrell is focusing on the whole public-choice thing and Hanson starts talking about how communism can’t work. Farrell might be wrong on the economics, but I think Hanson makes Farrell’s point for him on the public opinion question, pretty much admitting that the belief that “the public” agrees with him, despite what the polls might say, is based on his (Hanson’s) reading of economic theory.

All this does not say that Hanson’s economic analysis and policy preferences are wrong (or that they’re right). That’s a separate question from the study of public opinion, although public opinion is relevant to the question. If you claim to be in agreement with the people, it helps if the people are in agreement with you. Also, opinions can change.

95 Comments

  1. richard willey says:

    High level thoughts about the whole re-opening debate

    This is best thought of as a wholesale rejection of the “Hammer and Dance metaphor”.  I prefer to see us create a triphammer with a regular known cadence.

    First:  Coronvirus response is best considered as a dynamic system which contains both feedback andlag.  The most basic example of feedback is that coronavirus infection rates are impacted by the percentage of the population that is infected.  There are others (the willingness of people to wear masks can be contingent on the number of people who are infected).  There are also lags in the system.  For example, it can take a week or two to detect when someone becomes infected. 

    Second: There’s an enormous amount of literature describing how difficult it is for people to manage a dynamic system characterized by feedback and lag.  In particular, trying to use a very flexible rules set can often misfire terribly. (Google the “bullwhip effect” and the “beer game” for some good discussion of these topics.  Taking this back to the world of coronavirus, setting targets and then dynamically opening and closing parts of the economy based on current beliefs about infection rates and like is likely to produce some real problems with overshooting / undershooting and the like. 

    I claim that a static rules set is a better way to mitigate the “current” crisis (by which I mean the time until we have a good vaccine in widespread distribution and are able to measure its effectiveness).  In particular, I think that it is a mistake to be making short term decisions about whether or not it is safe to “open” the economy or whether now is the right time to shut down schools. Instead, I recommend a system in which the economy will open / close in pulses. Hypothetically, we might want to have the economy open for five weeks and then shut down for two and a half weeks, and then open for another five and then shut down for two and a half. 

    I claim that this sort of solution is superior along multiple axes. 

    1.   While the virus will have the chance to grow during the five week “open” stretches, the two and a half week “closed” stretches will act as a firebreak to squash it back down again and keep aggregate infection rates under control.
    2.   You provide the citizens with a regular and predictable schedule that they can use to arrange their lives.  They know when they will bein lockdown.  They know when things will be open.  This will also be much easier for people’s mental states.
    3.   You avoid the issues associated dynamic management, which means that you avoid the issues with overshoot / undershoot . 4.   You don’t need to have constant arguments about whether or not things look good enough to re-open.  One and done.

    • Andrew says:

      Richard:

      I’m reminded of the advice in poker to evaluate the strategy, not the play. Also, though, consider the concern with Keynesian automatic stabilizers: they assume that, when necessary, there will be sufficient “political will” to implement them. An automatic policy such as you suggest could be a good idea but it’s not a substitute for the political ability to have any shutdown.

    • Mendel says:

      You’re going to need feedback on whether your 5-week/2-week scheme works; and by instituting such a scheme, you’re increasing the lag from 2 weeks to 7-9 weeks.

      And look at the spring month’s daily case numbers, e.g. of New York or Germany: it looks like a 2-week rise needs a 5-week fall to come back down, and not the other way around.

      A partial, unlimited reopening during the summer did work for Germany; and raising public awareness plus tightening goverment regulations seems to work in the fall, though it’s a little early to say: we went from an R>1 October to an R~=1 November (“rounding the curve”), but we really need a steady R<1. The UK was in that situation in spring: they had steady case numbers at a high level that took much longer than the rest of Europe to come back down.

      At least there's one side benefit to this autumn wave: with the higher infection rates, vacine trials are set to have results sooner than expected.

  2. Kenneth Tay says:

    “Interesting about more educated or higher-income people taking more extreme positions, which gives a slightly different twist on Zakaria and Noonan.”

    I think the article says the opposite: that “To the extent there is a difference, it’s that less educated people are more likely to have “extreme” opinions of both kinds”.

  3. Tom says:

    Given the political polls were off, how does that affect public opinion polls like this? It would seem that the ex post poll failure is excluding those that would disfavor lockdowns. Is that accurate? Or is there an implicit assumption that the poll issues are peculiar to the election?

    • Andrew says:

      Tom:

      Good point. But remember the polls were only off by 2.5 percentage points for the election. A small shift of this magnitude would not affect the big picture regarding support for different coronavirus policies. The election is a special case: it’s close enough to 50/50 (or, I guess, given the electoral college, I should say 52/48) that small errors can have major consequences.

  4. Bob76 says:

    You wrote:
    richer people voted for Democrats and poorer people voted for Democrats—even though the data showed the opposite.

    I’m not quite sure what the opposite is. Perhaps the first “Democrats” should be “Republicans.”

    Bob76

  5. Wonks Anonymous says:

    Hanson starts talking about how communism can’t work

    He didn’t actually argue that. Instead he said “The fact that someone needs to work in order to make our world function isn’t some conspiracy foisted on us by the asymmetrically powerful, it is just a basic fact about our world that would also apply in Marxist heaven, or any other social system”. So a communist society could work, but the same forces pushing for re-opening would apply there as well. This is similar to Noah Smith on carbon emissions in Bolivia.

  6. somebody says:

    > pro-lockdown experts

    The entire construct of pro-lockdown experts is a fallacious construction. Best I can tell, most experts have only pushed lockdowns as a temporary means of moving towards the Taiwanese-South Korean-Vietnamese gold standards. The idea was ALWAYS to lockdown while learning and mobilizing, building up to more specific restrictions that are less taxing on economic activity, mass testing, and contact tracing. Say what you will about their many failures or the utopian nature of this fantasy, but the expert consensus was never “let’s lockdown for a year or more.”

  7. dpy6629 says:

    One thing that is certain is that the less affluent are more likely to be casualties of lockdown’s collateral damage – depression, drug overdoses, financial distress, delayed medical screenings and cancer treatments, etc. There has also been a drop in hospital visits for strokes and heart attacks.

    • somebody says:

      The countervailing force is that the less affluent are also more likely to be casualties of covid-19

    • Joshua says:

      The problem is that your logic is based in an assumption that you can disaggregate the effects of interventions from the effects of the pandemic itself.

      You can’t.

      The effects of a raging pandemic would hit the less affluent harder absent interventions as well.

      Stressors on a society will hit those least well equipped to adapt. Plainly obvious. Your argument is simultaneously logically flawed and banal

      • Joshua says:

        Contrary to the idea of a trade-off, we see that countries which suffered the most severe economic downturns – like Peru, Spain and the UK – are generally among the countries with the highest COVID-19 death rate.

        https://ourworldindata.org/covid-health-economy

        Sweden, with it’s “light touch” has has arguably had a *worse* economic impact than it’s Nordic neighbors. Cross-country comparisons are hard – they require a level of control for confounding variables that we don’t have. Comparing the economies is fraught because of dissimilarities (such as reliance on international trade). Comparing the death rates is fraught because of the dissimilarities (such as average # of people per household). But the simplistic assumption that economic or other harms are exacerbated by interventions as opposed to mitigated by them, are just not supported by the available data.

        GDP growth rate (2020 Q2) for Nordic countries.

        -4.5% Finland
        -5.1% Norway
        -6.8% Denmark
        -8.3% Sweden ← largest decline

        • Joshua says:

          Sorry – that first statement came from the “Our World In Data” link..

          the GDP #s come from https://tradingeconomics.com/

        • confused says:

          Has anyone looked at this across US states? I’ve seen some arguments that states that have taken it less seriously have done better economically than ones with stricter measures — but this might just be an issue of the different kinds of economies in those states (e.g. agriculture shouldn’t be impeded much).

        • Malcolm Kass says:

          To build on who you wrote earlier and maybe to push back just a bit on the world in data link, working with GDP is really sketchy and probably worth explaining why. Esp. with this “snapshot” type of analysis. We all know that the first rule of Real GDP club is to be wary of intercountry comparisons. Some key points here would be that Norway, Finland, Denmark have significantly larger economic shrinkages in the first quarter than Sweden because of the shutdown because these shutdowns happened in March. Second, Finland’s economy was somewhat sputtering even before covid. 4th quarter of last year it shrank by 0.6%. Norway has struggled with low oil prices before covid. If consumption and investment spending was already depressed, then covid wasn’t going to have as much of a “punch” as before.

          And I get this doesn’t usurp the overall argument that the tradeoff really doesn’t exist. Just that the world in data argument is a bit sloppy.

          • Joshua says:

            Malcolm –

            Thanks.

            Sure. I agree (although IIRC Sweden was also hit harder in the first quarter compared to other Nordic countries or the drop was roughly the same?)

            Phil wanted to do a post on that Our World analysis but I guess just never got to it.

            But yeah I only really meant to post it to say that people seem to me confusing correlation of economic downturn and COVID interventions with a causal relationship. Making the casual analysis requires a complicated counterfactual. Would the economy have been better off without the interventions? Who really knows? I think no one knows and at least I haven’t seen anyone who makes the arguments that rhe interventions “cause” economic harm (as opposed to a raging pandemic) present a serous argument.

            But yeah, the Our World link isn’t dispositive.

            And then there’s the whole issue of what does GDP really tell you anyway since it aggregates and doesn’t really tell you much about how most vulnerable people are affected – and that’s what David’s facile “but think of the poors” rhetorical gambit was playing off of.

            As a bit of history + when earlier I pointed out to David that poorer people and minorities feel a disparate impact from Covid, he responded that my point was “irrelevant”. So I’m picking a bone here.

    • Joshua says:

      Ioannidis’ buds at Stanford put population infection rate at 9.3%, using a sample they argue is nationally representative.

      Figuring that with everyone infected as of today the death toll will be 280 million?

      That puts the IFR at above 0.9%, or some 4-4.5 times higher than John’s estimate. Maybe John should have bothered to try to collect a representative sampling?

      • Joshua says:

        Er… 280,000, of course.

        • Carlos Ungil says:

          Maybe you meant 2.8 million?

          • Joshua says:

            No, 280,000 – meaning the number of people who have already died + some number who are currently infected and will die…but as “confused” pointed out below, I was working wrongly from the current number of people who have died and I should have been working with the number who died 2 months ago (when their data were collected) plus the number who died in the next four weeks (and then divided 330 million times 9.3% into that number to get an estimated IFR….).

            • Carlos Ungil says:

              Ah, my mistake. For some reason, reading “Figuring that with everyone infected as of today the death toll will be 280 million?” I thought you meant that if everyone was infected (rather than 9.3%) the total number of deaths would be eleven times the current number.

              • Joshua says:

                Sure – I can see where that would have been a logical interpretation.

                BTW – someone just directed me to this:

                https://www.maricopa.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1876

                PHOENIX (November 16, 2020) — Results from a serosurvey conducted across Maricopa County show that an estimated 10.7% of residents have detectable antibodies for COVID-19. This means that approximately 470,000 people in Maricopa County likely have been infected with the virus since the pandemic began.

      • confused says:

        9.3% seems really rather low – an IFR that high would imply that testing in places like Texas has been improbably effective at catching cases, even when positivity rates were high. (Texas’ CFR is a bit under 2%; do we really believe that Texas has detected half of all infections?)

        Of course 0.2% range IFR is ridiculous for the US, but 0.9% seems too high for the current US.

        Especially as if you believe the serology numbers from NY, its IFR in March-April was something like 1.1%, and hospitalization-to-death ratios seem to have declined a lot since spring; so the IFR being essentially the same now as then seems improbable.

        Could this be a T-cells vs. antibodies thing?

        • confused says:

          Wait, that article says September 28. So the measurements must have been taken before then — so at least two months old. And antibodies don’t develop instantly upon infection either, do they?

          9.3% of the US population having been infected on say September 1, two and a half months ago, when much of the rural US had barely been touched by COVID, seems entirely plausible.

          Also: “The research was conducted by analyzing blood samples from more than 28,000 patients on dialysis across 46 states.”

          This seems problematic; these are necessarily people with ‘comorbidities’ (and are more likely to think of themselves as such than, say, some obese people are) and therefore may be more cautious than the average American. I also wonder about the age distribution of the sample…

          • Joshua says:

            > Wait, that article says September 28. So the measurements must have been taken before then — so at least two months old. And antibodies don’t develop instantly upon infection either, do they?

            Ok. Good point. I was treating the numbers as if they are current. Yeah, 9.3% two months ago would likely be a good bit higher now – meaning my multiplied out IFR should be considerably lower.

            >This seems problematic; these are necessarily people with ‘comorbidities’ (and are more likely to think of themselves as such than, say, some obese people are) and therefore may be more cautious than the average American. I also wonder about the age distribution of the sample…

            I would guess that they would have adjusted for age distribution. It would be shocking if they hadn’t. As for the affect of a convenience sampling….yeah, maybe people on dialysis would likely be more careful, less likely to go out and about, more likely to wear masks, etc. On the other hand, they necessarily are traveling to get their dialysis and spending time indoors with a lot of other people around and in medical environments where there’s likely a high % of infected people…so I dunno. I’m ALWAYS skeptical about convenience sampling…but less so when I can use it to reinforce my rhetorical agenda!

            • confused says:

              >> meaning my multiplied out IFR should be considerably lower.

              Well, if we assume as a first approximation that the time lag from infection -> antibody development -> reporting of the results is comparable to so we compare September 28 deaths to the September 28 reported antibody numbers…

              Worldometers has 210k US deaths as of September 28*.

              9.3% of the US population of 330 million is ~30.7 million, which would give an IFR of ~0.68% — extremely close to the CDC “best estimate” of 0.65%.

              *Sourcex vary slightly — they have 257k for the US now where Johns Hopkins has 251k — but I’m sure this is much less than the “margin of error” in reporting anyway, given excess deaths, etc.)

              • confused says:

                And that IFR of 0.65% or 0.68% would imply something like 37-40 million infections, or 11%-12% of the population, as of say a month ago (to result in the current 251k-257k deaths)

                As the infection rate seems to have risen over the last month, we might be
                at something like 15% now – especially if the current IFR is lower than the US-overall IFR (because it was higher in the Northeast at the beginning).

        • Joshua says:

          confused –

          > 9.3% seems really rather low – an IFR that high would imply that testing in places like Texas has been improbably effective at catching cases, even when positivity rates were high. (Texas’ CFR is a bit under 2%; do we really believe that Texas has detected half of all infections?)

          Yah, that 9.3% number seems somewhat low to me. But it’s a national number so I don’t think you can break out a particular location. And it does seem that the ascertainment rate is getting much higher – which is reflected in the divergence between positive test rates and death rates.

          > Of course 0.2% range IFR is ridiculous for the US, but 0.9% seems too high for the current US.

          Of course, the 0.9% was just my projection – not their estimate…

          >Especially as if you believe the serology numbers from NY, its IFR in March-April was something like 1.1%, and hospitalization-to-death ratios seem to have declined a lot since spring; so the IFR being essentially the same now as then seems improbable.

          How are you getting a hospitalization to death ratio – are you just looking at someplace like Worldometers and multiplying it out? It would seem to me that the IFR has certainly dropped – say from what we were seeing in NYC in April….but when if we look at the ratio of positive tests to deaths dropping it’s easy to just attribute that to a massively lower IFR, but it’s a bit misleading because the ascertainment rate is probably much higher now.

          > Could this be a T-cells vs. antibodies thing?

          Maybe – but I think the whole T-cell thing got politicized in an unfortunate way. People were arguing that “T-cell immunity” would explain that period of low case rates in Sweden as an example, even though most of the researchers involved said that T-cells reactivity might decrease the severity of infections but not the infection rate…so I think a lot of caution should be used when speculating about the impact of T-cells reactivity.

          • confused says:

            Sure. And there is some reason to believe that places like TX would have a lower IFR than the US average — the population is younger on average and there were few deaths in March-April when treatment was very poorly understood.

            Ascertainment has absolutely improved, it was terrible early on; but I really doubt we’re catching anything like 1/2 of cases in states with pretty high positivity rates.

            I agree the T-cells got misleadingly politicized, but I have read that it’s at least possible some people might have COVID but not develop antibodies & thus not show up on these tests. (As distinct from people being immune without ever having it, as some were suggesting a few months back.)

  8. Ben says:

    Seeing polling on this makes me want to see more polling on this!

  9. Dale Lehman says:

    I find this whole discussion of public opinion: pro or anti lockdown counterproductive. I think it shares the same problems as NHST – reducing a multidimensional uncertain problem to binary logic. Am I for or against lockdowns? Both – it depends on the circumstances and the alternatives. The facts are uncertain, the assumptions in people’s minds will differ when responding to the question, and the result is a binary declaration of what people favor, without the possibility of finding where there might be common ground.

    Sure, gauging public opinion is important for setting public policy. But when it is presented in this binary fashion, it becomes more of a gauge of tribal allegiance than anything useful. Meat plant workers may favor shutdowns and/or other COVID mitigations, but they also want their jobs. Is it really helpful to find out which is more important to them? I’d rather find out what protections we can offer, at what costs, and to whom? There may, in fact, be common ground for moving forward. But presenting it as a binary choice just forces them to declare a conclusion, much like forcing a p value to declare whether or not an effect is real.

    I really think one of the worst impacts of the past 4 years (and, to be fair, it started before that) is the devolution of public discourse into binary thinking. Humans were always in danger of this, but it seems to have become the only way we express ourselves.

    • Matt Skaggs says:

      ” Am I for or against lockdowns? Both […]”

      As I pointed out on an earlier thread, from a game theory perspective, the best outcome for any individual is that the individual is safely at home on unemployment or whatever, while everyone else is working. The “binary” aspect of modern society is between social cooperators and social defectors. Both want to be safe, but the former want to see others safe as well (because a healthy society will lift their own boat), while the latter want to see others working (because a thriving economy will lift their boat). In this view, one would expect any analysis based upon an elite/working class division to yield inconsistent results, since cooperators and defectors are distributed across the division.

      If polls properly illuminated the cooperator/defector divide, there would not be so much confusion about who wants what and why they want it.

      • confused says:

        >>the best outcome for any individual is that the individual is safely at home on unemployment or whatever, while everyone else is working

        Only if the only factors considered are income and health risk. Disruption to “everyday life” can be seen as a bad thing in itself, and if you are (or think you are) at very low risk, may seem more important than not getting COVID.

        I mean, anecdotally it seems that a lot of people are going on with their lives more or less as normal despite rapidly rising cases…

        • Yes to what confused wrote. It seems oddly incomprehensible to many people that many other people value “living” more than “life.” If I wanted to maximize my odds of staying alive I’d drive an SUV to work, instead of bicycling (which I do). In our sadly binary world (yes to Dale also), the existence of a continuum between maximal safety and delusional recklessness seems hard to discuss.

    • Joshua says:

      > I really think one of the worst impacts of the past 4 years (and, to be fair, it started before that) is the devolution of public discourse into binary thinking. Humans were always in danger of this, but it seems to have become the only way we express ourselves.

      I”m not sure how much it is a function of the last 4 years, but the high level of binary thinking is certainly a problem.

      The very idea that we could differentiate the effects of interventions from the effects of a raging pandemic is a highly problematic binary framework.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      +1 to several to Dale’s points

    • Ben says:

      > But presenting it as a binary choice just forces them to declare a conclusion, much like forcing a p value to declare whether or not an effect is real.

      This feels like the question of does-polling-make-people-overconfident-in-results thing that was around for the 2016/2020 election.

      Anyway, it seems interesting to know public opinion here! Similar to the why-we-do-election-polls argument, without this I’m left with Working-Person tropes.

      Sure it’s a far cry from knowing public opinion to coordinating an effective covid response, but also knowing public opinion hopefully doesn’t prevent an effective covid response!

      > But when it is presented in this binary fashion, it becomes more of a gauge of tribal allegiance than anything useful.

      Maybe it has. I’m not sure. My argument against this though is I don’t think I would have guessed the polling above, so it’s hard for me to think that all this is measuring is some tribal allegiance (whatever that is).

      • Dale Lehman says:

        I think you are exemplifying my point. You say “I don’t think I would have guessed the polling above….” Now, the “support” of lockdowns has become a fact, just like p<.05 determines fact. But the fact here is that, presented with a binary choice, people gave the responses that they did. What I don't know is what that public opinion actually means – does it mean they favor complete lockdowns at the present time? It feels exactly like those that claim support for their particular alternate hypothesis upon a significant finding that rejects the null hypothesis.

        Beyond this, I was also thinking that this is related to the recent discussion about political polling. Both types of polls raise the same reaction in me – I don't participate in either, and I don't find the results of either constructive. I do see some more value/use in election polls (though I am still not sure I believe their net effect is positive) than I see in these general public opinion polls. The latter are likely to get used by people in policy-making and opinion-forming, and since I think they are really measuring tribal instincts rather than developing thoughtful reasoning, I am willing to say such polls are counterproductive.

        • Ben says:

          > You say “I don’t think I would have guessed the polling above….” Now, the “support” of lockdowns has become a fact

          I didn’t say support of lockdowns is a fact axiomatically now or then or in the future — and I don’t think Andrew or David did either. What I said was the polling above is interesting and I am curious to see more.

          In particular I hear these working-person tropes floating around for covid, and it sure seems like something we could look into with some polling.

          Of course, it would be silly for me to say I’m not generalizing that polling a little, but I’m not carving it into stone or anything. Like, April is a long time ago! But public opinion generally changes slowly? But I guess the time between now and April is longer than the time between April and when nobody knew about covid, I dunno.

          > What I don’t know is what that public opinion actually means – does it mean they favor complete lockdowns at the present time?

          Exactly. More polling if you want to know this. And of course you can do this and still recognize whatever limitations you want about public opinion and policy-making.

          > since I think they are really measuring tribal instincts rather than developing thoughtful reasoning

          This is what I very much disagree with. This tribal stuff seems as dubious as the working-person tropes. Like what tribes? What instincts? Why has this poll prevented the development of thoughtful reasoning?

  10. Marc Intrater says:

    A complicating issue is that public opinion (of the truck drives, of the meatpackers, of the pundit-class, of the financial elites, ….) is changing. I’m not sure if an April poll tells us anything about November opinions. This is unlike the case of election preference, where most opinion is baked in. COVID is new and opinions are volatile. To commit the anecdote fallacy myself, I and my community are acting, and talking much different now than we did in April.

    Moreover, the shifts in opinion are not random, but are influenced by talk among media and politicians, and by the success (or lack thereof) of previous COVID measures. In many other countries, mask wearing, selective closures, and restrictions on large gatherings are widely accepted as what needs to be done.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Good points.

    • confused says:

      Also, what people believe may not be entirely in accord with what they do! Anecdotally, some people seem to be generally in favor of measures “in theory” but actually cut corners in their personal lives.

      • anon e mouse says:

        For sure! I favor stricter restrictions than we’re currently under, but I go to some combination of the grocery store and Target and Costco or whatever more than once a week most weeks. That is definitely not optimal behavior. But for various reasons, it’s very hard for us to plan sufficiently well to need fewer trips right now, and nothing is stopping me, so that’s what I do. I wear masks, sanitize my hands, maintain distance, shop quickly, etc. But I could and probably should do more. And that’s a much subtler disconnect between intentions and actions than some I’ve seen.

  11. Mendel says:

    Whoever considers physical interventions against the spread of the epidemic as a matter of demographics-tied opinion politicizes a public health issue. They’re not neutral.
    And this politisation works against public health. The circumstances have borne this out, but the WHO also explicitly warned against this back in March: it’s one of things I remember strongly from one of their live-streamed press conferences. Presumably they have a lot of experience with how different countries react to health crises.

    Political measures affect the economic impact of the epidemic: Spain put a “minimum income scheme” in place that closed a social security gap. If the argument goes, “poor people ought to be in favor of getting income again”, then that says two things: a), that blocking coronavirus relief from the government is pushing for reopening and hurting public health, and b), that the people who argue this as an economic theory have a model that has people put less value on health and life and the responsibility for the health and life of others than the people actually do.

    Or maybe they just assume that Trump speaks for the “common man”.

    • Dzhaughn says:

      I wonder what your reaction would be is I suggested that popular opposition certain fighting methods “politicized a military issue.” Damn right it does. The idea that there are “public health issues” above questions of democratic governance is misguided and dangerous.

      • Mendel says:

        “Certain fighting methods”? Which ones? That sounds like an unsupported argument.

        it confirms what advocates for the banning of certain classes of weapons have suspected for years — that the world’s militaries are loath to ban weapons that kill effectively, while acceding to bans of weapons that they don’t need. Put another way, military leaders agreed to the banning of poison gas in 1925 not because it was horrifyingly effective, but because it wasn’t.

        Source: https://www.politico.eu/article/why-the-world-banned-chemical-weapons/

        Nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation are in part political issues, but these political aims have always been considered secondary to national and international security.

        I can’t actually think of a military issue that has been decided contrary to military need.

        ————-

        I hope the the majority of people involved in this debate agree: having people die in makeshift hospital tents or remain untreated at home is not a tenable situation. The political disagreement is over whether lockdowns and mask mandates are needed to prevent this situation, with one end of the spectrum saying they’re necessary, and the other end saying nothing will happen because Covid-19 is fake. But that is not a political issue: the effects of these regulations on the infection rate, the deaths and other consequences, are not political; it’s public health knowledge. The question of whether the current measures are “too restrictive”, as one poll put it, is not a question of opinion, it is a question of fact if the goal of stopping the spread is assumed.

        Which measures are able to stop the spread of the epidemic is above democratic governance, because it can’t be influenced by it. It’s a matter of public health.
        Democratic governance must decide which consequences are acceptable and set goals. But the goals of “it’ll go away” and “open up all states” are mutually exclusive in certain situations (such as now) as a matter of public health. Saying we can do both because it is politically expedient is reckless; “democratic governance” cannot achieve that goal because it is impossible, as a matter of public health.

        Your argument amounts to saying that everything can happen if you only wish for it hard enough. I think *that* is misguided and dangerous.

        • Ben says:

          > I can’t actually think of a military issue that has been decided contrary to military need.

          F35 probably fits in there somewhere. And ‘military need’ seems a bit wobbly. Like what was the military need of Vietnam, yada yada, but I guess this is tangential to the covid point.

          • Renzo Alves says:

            Sometimes weapons (or systems)that aren’t absolutely needed for current military purposes are procured because the sole company that makes them is needed (or believed to be) for future military purposes. (This is also why some things have high price tags.)

        • Bob76 says:

          It seems to me that a key question is “What is the meaning of resolved.”

          One famous case is US naval torpedoes at the beginning of WWII—they often failed to go bang after being fired correctly. These torpedoes had multiple faults.

          The torpedoes met the needs of the bureaucracy that was making them—but failed the needs of the men in the subs in the Pacific.

          Bob76

        • confused says:

          “I hope the the majority of people involved in this debate agree: having people die in makeshift hospital tents or remain untreated at home is not a tenable situation”

          Obviously no one involved *wants* that to happen, and the majority of the US population would indeed probably consider stay-at-home orders/mandatory business closures preferable to that.

          But I am not at all sure that that is true of the majority of *every state*, or of the governments of every state. I can’t really rule out someplace like South Dakota finding business closures/stay-at-home orders to be ‘worse’ than some COVID patients not getting hospital beds.

          Given the time lag from deciding to issue a mandate to hospitalizations dropping, can they do anything to make a difference at this point? North Dakota *may* have peaked – and they issued a mask mandate Nov. 14 – but you wouldn’t really expect to see an effect same-day.

          • I remember a few months ago during the “when to reopen” debates you were saying that places like the Dakota’s might never really have much infection due to their low density etc. Now they are considered the worst location on Earth for per capital infections and death thanks to Sturgis and the stupidity of that whole disaster It seems like the pattern is epidemiologists say one thing, that thing doesn’t happen within say 3 to 5 days of the prediction, the world says “what a bunch of Eggheads they don’t know anything” and purposefully flaunts the predictions, and then the epi people are shown to be right qualitatively 3 months later… EVERY SINGLE TIME

            so what we learn is that basically the US is Dunning Kruger central

            • Note that I’m not intending to dump on “confused” here. it really was plausible that the Dakotas might never have seen high levels of infection. it required however that they continue making SOME effort to not spread the virus. Instead we got Sturgis. It’s the people who failed to cancel that event who I’m upset with, all the way from the organizers to the mayor’s to the state police and the governor. they were really criminally negligent here

              • confused says:

                Yeah. If they hadn’t gotten *quite* that careless it could have been relatively ok.

                However “the worst location on Earth for per capita infections and death” is I think only referring to a pretty short time period; per capita COVID deaths since the beginning of the pandemic are nowhere near NYC or the hard-hit parts of Italy. (Though they may get there…)

                The South Dakota health department data page *appears* to be showing signs that it may be peaking, but the majority of deaths will probably still be coming.

            • confused says:

              ‘Every single time’ is perhaps a bit of an overstatement… some of the *early* models do really seem to have been over-pessimistic. I don’t think any action or inaction could actually have led to 2.2 million COVID deaths in the US or 50,000 in Minnesota, nor hospital capacity being overwhelmed by a factor of 8x, as some early models suggested.

              So I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘qualitatively’… I would argue that hospital capacity issues really have been qualitatively different than projected (though that may not hold in the more rural areas currently being hit hard) though the general course of the pandemic has been pretty much as projected.

          • Joshua says:

            confused –

            > I can’t really rule out someplace like South Dakota finding business closures/stay-at-home orders to be ‘worse’ than some COVID patients not getting hospital beds.

            It’s not just a matter of “some COVID patients not getting hospital beds.” Let’s not forget that for some, not an insignificant number of people in fact, there is the view that it is better for a lot of people to get sick, and for some % of them (mostly older people) to die, than to limit commerce or even wear a mask. Some think that in the end, the same or more people will die if there are interventions than would die otherwise.

            • confused says:

              Aren’t these two very different beliefs?

              1) ultimately interventions will not change the number of deaths, when all is said and done

              2) interventions probably will change the number of deaths, but the social/economic/mental health/etc costs of interventions are greater than the costs of the greater number of COVID deaths

              All I am really saying is that I don’t think it is true that any state will be “forced to lock down” when things get to a certain level of severity. In some places not taking measures may remain politically viable regardless.

              That is not a statement about what is *right*.

    • rm bloom says:

      Yes — he does. He speaks for a very definite type: the common man whose self-esteem stands not upon how well *he* is doing; but how poorly someone *else* is doing. For this common man, there is an intrinsic conflict in time of disaster: the prospect of cooperation puts him in a quandary, for only through cooperation may he better his own state, yet as a result, others too will benefit. This remarkable description is no longer a mere caricature. It just as concrete a phenomenon in the US nowadays as its diametrical opposite was when I first entered grade-school decades ago (think of the famous Kennedy quote). The virus however is a stern teacher and a lesson *will* be taken.

    • Jim says:

      Mendel: so you advocate for total public health protection at any cost?

      • Mendel says:

        No?
        I am arguing that politicians should unify in favor of public health even if it costs them *politically*, e.g. because it might mean that they’d endorse regulations when their political philosophy is against them.

        And actually, the “at any cost” argument is a straw man divorced from reality.

        Doing a lockdown effectively and early costs less, comparing to doing it later and half-heartedly for political reasons.

        Arranging for unified messaging on restrictions costs less than divisive messaging from political motives (“experts recommend wearing masks, but I’m not going to do it”).

        Educating the population early costs nothing.

        Preparing early costs less than sitting still and then scrambling to make up for lost time.

        These are all issues that have arisen because public health issues have been politicised, and their impact has been negative both in terms of public health and in terms of cost.

        I don’t see any indications that countries who locked down early and decisively are doing worse economically.

        Are you arguing that deciding “we’re just going to let this epidemic spread because it costs too much to contain it” is ever a responsible decision both domestically and internationally?

        • rm bloom says:

          Change “educating the public” to “leading…” This is the crux of the whole problem. “Leadership” is not some tedious pretty-sounding phrase half-remembered from high-school civics; an empty phrase with which to pad a resume. It is a concrete entity, a visitation found among certain men and women; no less so than pianistic ability or marksmanship. Sitting on one’s hands for excruciating intervals of days and weeks, while case-counts accelerate, trying to decide “what the data say” and “how to craft the best message” may be all that the second and third-raters can come up with; and to cover over their lack of confidence, in their own authority, their diffidence in respect to what consensus they can or cannot elicit among the people, they take heart in the pablum of “educating the public”. However this is not leadership. It inspires nothing but cynicism; it is destructive of consensus. The captain of a ship on a raging sea does not “educate” the crew, the captain *leads*. For better or for worse, the entire crew “educate” themselves by facing together the experience of the storm; whether or not they survive follows from a combination of luck, talent, know-how, experience, and leadership.

  12. Robin Hanson says:

    At the time, most experts and pundits quoted in MSM were arguing to maintain lockdown. I was predicting that the political pressures would be different, for ending lockdown. I was right; lockdowns soon weakened and ended. So “elites” in the sense of quoted experts and pundits, vs the rest of the society via their political pressures.

    • Wonks Anonymous says:

      To be fair, the proponents of lockdowns didn’t necessarily expect that said lockdowns would last the whole year. But they did seem to think that the pandemic would be brought under control via those lockdowns (I remember “hammer and dance” being a metaphor used Tomas Pueyo, whom you debated on COVID).

  13. Fabian B. says:

    Hello Andrew,

    if your posts would have some kind of appealing picture for my social media site to scrape a preview image from, im sure i could lure one or two more people into clicking on your very interesting and informative texts.

    Best regards,
    Fabian

  14. jim says:

    Politicians are being much more careful about shutdowns now than they were in March and April. That’s a pretty strong hint that the public has been expressing a lack of enthusiasm for them.

    • Joshua says:

      Politicians are talking about the need for targeted interventions, maskandates, etc.

      That’s a pretty strong hint that the public has been expressing an understanding thst limited interventions are necessary in some places.

      • Jim says:

        I think most people are willing to accept some sensible precautions provided they’re allowed to pursue their livelihood rather than be forced into bankruptcy

        • Joshua says:

          Jim –

          “pursue their livelihood rather than be forced into bankruptcy” is a rhetorical spin. With interventions comes things like stimulus checks and extended unemployment and loans and employers who are not going to fire people for staying home because they don’t want to go into a workplace where there are a lot of infected people.

          So while I would agree that many people fit the choices into that kind of framework, they’re basically doing so because this has all become a proxy political identity battle.

          I mean I can spin it to – where people are choosing between a minor inconvenience of wearing a mask and facing massive illness and death when practically everyone they know is infected and people are dying in the hallways of the local hospitals.

          I think that public enthusiasm is more accurately described as enthusiasm for political orientation rather than public health policy choices. The prior drives the latter. Asking someone what they think about COVID interventions basically asking who they are, not what their opinion is about COVID interventions. It’s basically like asking them what they think about climate change.

          • confused says:

            There’s certainly a ton of political spin, but I don’t think it’s quite *that* binary.

            I thankfully have been able to work from home — but I would *absolutely* consider losing my job to be a worse outcome than catching COVID. My risk of dying of COVID is probably somewhere in the 1/1000 to 1/2000 range, and losing my job would IMO be a much larger than 1/1000 hit to my quality of life.

            And stimulus checks etc would probably not change that view… this isn’t a concern about immediate poverty (which –again thankfully– I wouldn’t really be in that situation) but of longer-term career impacts.

          • confused says:

            >>I think that public enthusiasm is more accurately described as enthusiasm for political orientation rather than public health policy choices. The prior drives the latter.

            I don’t know. It’s arguably chicken/egg. Is it a matter of simply adopting the political position on COVID of the party one already identifies with, or are the different positions simply the result of applying the pre-existing ideology/worldview to the specific case of COVID?

            I think you could just as easily argue that the different positions on COVID are simply a result of the different beliefs on the government’s role on health/healthcare in general.

            The question of COVID interventions could just as easily be seen as a question of “is it/should it be the government’s ‘job’ to protect people from disease?” just like the debates about ACA, public option, etc. etc.

          • Joshua says:

            confused –

            > I think you could just as easily argue that the different positions on COVID are simply a result of the different beliefs on the government’s role on health/healthcare in general.

            You mean like “keep your government hands off my Medicare?” or like how an individual mandate went from key “personal responsibility” to the height of governmental tyranny once Obama got elected? Or how personal behaviors of politicians went from a decisive attribute among evangelicals before Trump to irrelevance after Trump got elected?

            So I disagree. Pretty much everyone wants enough government in involvement but not too much. And people switch up on their definitions depending on how their identity-orientated ideological ox is gored. Is getting involved with Carrier crony capitalism? Are tariffs contradictory to allowing the invisible hand to determine fiscal policy?

            > I thankfully have been able to work from home — but I would *absolutely* consider losing my job to be a worse outcome than catching COVID. My risk of dying of COVID is probably somewhere in the 1/1000 to 1/2000 range, and losing my job would IMO be a much larger than 1/1000 hit to my quality of life.

            That’s exactly the problematic pattern. Anecdotes are important but generalizing to the public from your own personal context is a really, really bad practice. I have no problem imagining that SOME people would rather there be no interventions because they’ve trained it through and weighed the probabilities of different outcomes, but this is really complex stuff and I see a ton of people arguing as if they KNOW how different policies would affect them differentially when in reality they don’t know and they are obviously going with their ideological predilictions where there is tons of evidence that it’s ideological orientations drives the analytical cart.

            Climate change is the perfect object lesson for these dynamics. I suppose a case could be made for why the dynamics are different here than with climate change or a slew of other issues where an ideological signal plays out in how people reason in relation to highly complex risk assessment under conditions of high uncertainty – but I m highly skeptical.

            • confused says:

              >>like how an individual mandate went from key “personal responsibility” to the height of governmental tyranny once Obama got elected?

              I think that is a bit different. That’s a matter of political ‘spin’ shifting what’s considered “too much” government involvement.

              The fact that politicians *exploit* cultural divisions doesn’t show that the cultural divisions weren’t previously there and important.

              I think we are seeing the Republican / Democratic parties aligning more and more to be rural / urban parties … IE Republican / Democratic identity is I think more and more driven by the cultural divide, rather than vice versa.

              >>Or how personal behaviors of politicians went from a decisive attribute among evangelicals before Trump to irrelevance after Trump got elected?

              IMO that is a rather different case which *does* have more to do with party loyalty… but I think the party loyalty itself is largely driven in that case by the importance of the Supreme Court for the issues those voters care about (eg abortion). I don’t think that factor applies for COVID.

              >>I suppose a case could be made for why the dynamics are different here than with climate change

              I really do think that the huge role of healthcare, and specifically the government role in it, in US politics since at least the 2008 election (at the end of 2016 people were saying Trump’s election was “a referendum on Obamacare”) makes this different.

              • Joshua says:

                > The fact that politicians *exploit* cultural divisions doesn’t show that the cultural divisions weren’t previously there and important.

                Well, you say chicken and I say egg. Why were they there? Why are they important? I think they’re there and important is because people want to reinforce in- and out-group orientation.

                Just saw another one tonight. Folks on Fox News were *outraged* *outraged I say” because voting is different in every state. Would go into the “you can’t make it up” folder, except that folder is over-flowing.

                I think that for the most part (of course there is multi-factorial causality, running in different directions) the cultural choices are arbitrary – and that’s why we see people switching orientation along cultural lines in order to preserve in- and out-group orientation. Although I only gave examples of conz, I don’t pretend that it’s more characteristic of them than with libz.

                I think people over-rely on ev-psych explanations for why we have this, but I still think it’s a pretty fun dental attribute of our society these days.

                > I think we are seeing the Republican / Democratic parties aligning more and more to be rural / urban parties … IE Republican / Democratic identity is I think more and more driven by the cultural divide, rather than vice versa.

                I don’t disagree – but that doesn’t change my thesis. Partisan party orientation isn’t the only identify component. But still, more and more we see that partisan identity orientation drives a larger cultural orientation. Dem, and pubz sent just opponents. They are enemies – totally incompatible.

                > IMO that is a rather different case which *does* have more to do with party loyalty… but I think the party loyalty itself is largely driven in that case by the importance of the Supreme Court for the issues those voters care about (eg abortion). I don’t think that factor applies for COVID.

                Identity drives partisan loyalty which drives identity which drives partisan loyalty, recursively. And “values” get mixed in with a distorted sense of in- and out-group homogeneity.

                > I really do think that the huge role of healthcare, and specifically the government role in it, in US politics since at least the 2008 election (at the end of 2016 people were saying Trump’s election was “a referendum on Obamacare”) makes this different.

                Well, we see that the differences in views on healthcare diminish towards insignificance when questions are made ggeneric (e.g., should poor people be denied care) as opposed to easily identified along partisan/identity group marketed (e.g., do you favor Obamacare, is medicaid or a one payer system or socialized health insurance a good thing)

              • confused says:

                >>I think they’re there and important is because people want to reinforce in- and out-group orientation.

                Well, I think there are two different things here. Tribalism/party loyalty/in- and out-groups is a fundamental part of human nature.

                I am talking more about — given that we have a two-party system — what groups of people, and what policy positions/ideologies/values, get sorted into the two parties.

                >>But still, more and more we see that partisan identity orientation drives a larger cultural orientation. Dem, and pubz sent just opponents. They are enemies – totally incompatible.

                OK, but why is that increasing over time? In- and out-group stuff is a fundamental human thing IMO, why are we more polarized now than in the Clinton administration?

                IMO it’s two things – the fracturing of media creating echo-chamber effects, but also the deepening of the urban-rural divide (which I’d say is driven by economic factors, which then shape the demographics because of where people move to, which then shapes the culture).

                Because of these two things (the cultural divide is *actually* deepening, and *also* echo-chamber effects mean people see less of the other side’s perspective) the parties drift apart.

                >>Well, we see that the differences in views on healthcare diminish towards insignificance when questions are made ggeneric (e.g., should poor people be denied care)

                Eh, couldn’t that be just a matter of phrasing it in a way no one wants to agree with?

                I mean, would you get similar answers to “should poor people be denied care?” as you would to “should distribution of limited healthcare resources be decided by the free market or by the government?”

              • Joshua says:

                > Well, I think there are two different things here. Tribalism/party loyalty/in- and out-groups is a fundamental part of human nature.

                I’m not sure what you’re describing as a distinction. They fuse and overlap. And then we have to mix race in as well.

                > I am talking more about — given that we have a two-party system — what groups of people, and what policy positions/ideologies/values, get sorted into the two parties.

                Right. I get that. But I’m suggesting that it’s fairly arbitrary, and not based on some differentiation in “values” as people tend to ascribe.

                > OK, but why is that increasing over time? In- and out-group stuff is a fundamental human thing IMO, why are we more polarized now than in the Clinton administration?

                The argument isn’t that we’re more polarized. It’s that the polarization is more uniformly aligned along partisan/party orientation. There used to be more diversity within parties. Now, although there is more diversity within Demz than among Pubz, it’s an uneasy alliance. And there is virtually zero diversity left among Pubz.

                > IMO it’s two things – the fracturing of media creating echo-chamber effects, but also the deepening of the urban-rural divide (which I’d say is driven by economic factors, which then shape the demographics because of where people move to, which then shapes the culture).

                I think both are in play. And sure, there seems to be a growing demographic aspect of further divisions slong the rural/urban dividing line. But there’s also a racial component, IMO, that in many ways has become more exacerbated with Trump. There is a bit of a through line running from Nixon’s Southern Strategy to Reagan’s “welfare queens” and Bush’s Willie Horton ads and McCain’s nominating Palen’s anti-othering for VP and Romney’s attacks against welfare… But at the same time there was a growing distaste for outright racism, more of a push among Pubz for being “color-blind” as a primary message. With Trump we have more of a fusing of rural/urban divisions

                > Because of these two things (the cultural divide is *actually* deepening, and *also* echo-chamber effects mean people see less of the other side’s perspective) the parties drift apart.

                But I don’t think it’s really a deepening cultural line. It’s a deepening political line. Is the rural/urban distinction a “cultural” distinction of a political and partisan one? I”m not sure.

                > Eh, couldn’t that be just a matter of phrasing it in a way no one wants to agree with?

                >> I mean, would you get similar answers to “should poor people be denied care?” as you would to “should distribution of limited healthcare resources be decided by the free market or by the government?”

                But that’s my point. If you ask it in a way that triggers a political/partisan orientation you find a split. But it isn’t really a values-based or even really a “cultural” split.

            • confused says:

              Oh, and I agree most people really don’t think out the risks in the way I posted; but it really does seem like “I’m young and healthy therefore if I get COVID it’s probably not that much of a problem” is a pretty common thought process, given that people are still going to bars etc. in states where they are open.

  15. jonathan says:

    If I may offer the following: you cant help but tilt your storyline toward an ending because you cannot define a prior which excludes an ending. That is, when you say ‘this is my argument’, you cant phrase that argument as though it has no conclusion. You cant because, at the end of any summation process, you must add a negative or a positive, meaning your conclusion must embody directionality.

    One of the great things about reality is that it doesnt require many to get something right, as long as we get enough right, whether by weight of number or some other method of counting. This has underlaid a lot of the discussion about social science: the sense within social science that work which says very little to nothing is part of a fabric that paints a larger picture which imparts retroactive value.

    Another neat thing is that as you approach a barrier, you get reflected back at you all the logical and illogical chains that connect you to the anticipated endings. That can be chaotic, which also fits the image of the social science work that believes it’s part of a larger picture which will attribute value to that threading of logic and effort. I dont see how you can avoid this. That is, the translation of ‘what we dont know will happen’ into guesses which have odds. The number of threads that combine is often taken as ‘this is the winning horse or wave, so jump aboard’, when that may only be what appears to be true partly because you cant look past your beliefs and partly because your beliefs are just beliefs out of a field of beliefs which maybe you can somehow order as more or less accurate after the fact, but then only to the extent your actual knowledge of what happened is accurate, and you arent judging based on a mistaken reading. But it’s guaranteed there are mistaken readings looking backwards because you’re looking back into chaotic threads so any form of dependency is the best mirage you can fit.

    Here’s an example of sorts. I read a WaPo analysis of the gig driver initiative in CA that said the reason it passed is people misunderstood that it didnt improve the job circumstances of drivers. It quotes a few voters saying they thought they were voting for better jobs, which is then used to assert that people were misled into thinking being a contractor was better than being an employee. The article’s own data says people actually voted based on a job versus no job argument. So what was being sold by the article is a misleading story that the gig companies are rolling out a misleading story about how not being an employee in a job versus a contractor in a job is better, when what is actually being rolled out is the choice of job or no job. That is a rather clear imposition of a prior distorting how you interpret past results. I dont see how you avoid that because even when you try not to come down on one side or the other, you do because you must. And you must because you are seeing chains that extend to conclusions or ends, or rather you see the reflections or inversions of what disappears into either the mist or chaos.

    • Dale Lehman says:

      You lost me at “when you say ‘this is my argument’, you cant phrase that argument as though it has no conclusion.” That statement is far from obvious to me. And I didn’t understand the rest of what you said. Maybe someone can translate?

  16. The Vole says:

    And then there is this:
    https://iowacapitaldispatch.com/2020/11/18/lawsuit-tyson-managers-bet-money-on-how-many-workers-would-contract-covid-19/

    Tyson Foods ordered employees to report for work while supervisors privately wagered money on the number of workers who would be sickened by the deadly virus … In mid-April, around the time Black Hawk County Sherriff Tony Thompson visited the plant and reported the working conditions there “shook [him] to the core,” plant manager Tom Hart organized a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19.

    In March and April, plant supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests for COVID-19 within the plant, and allegedly told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry as the result of a shutdown.

    Tyson paid out $500 “thank you bonuses” to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months — a policy decision that allegedly incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work.

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