Pandemic Politics: How have state responses to the pandemic been different based on partisanship?

EKU Online > News & Updates > Political Science > Pandemic Politics: How have state responses to the pandemic been different based on partisanship?

Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented public health crisis. In a little over thirteen months our country lost 500,000 lives. Even though this pandemic has presented a universal threat and an opportunity for the country to stand united in policy decisions regarding public health, something we have seen some other countries doing across the world, the bulk of policy decisions regarding the pandemic fell to the states. Their responses have been vastly different and driven by political affiliations and partisanship. The policies enacted in response to the pandemic have provided another illustration of deep political polarization in the United States.  

State constitutions allow governors to create legislation to protect the public during a state of emergency. States led by democratic governors have been more aggressive in adopting policies related to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to note that early in the pandemic many of these states had higher infection and death rates, most likely due to higher population density. Early in the pandemic, policies such as mask mandates, stay at home orders, school closures, and limits on social gatherings were quickly adopted in states led by democratic governors. Stay at home orders in these states have often been for longer time periods than those in states led by republican governors. Decisions in democratic led states have been focused on preserving the health of those in the community, but many of the policies adopted have negatively impacted their economies resulting in higher unemployment rates and business closures. In states like Kentucky, where the governor is a democrat and the legislature is controlled by republicans, we have seen ideological conflicts and situations where the legislature tries to limit the power of the governor. Democratic states are now focused on reopening their economies with strict guidelines.

States led by republican governors have been slower to implement stay at home orders. The governors in these states have been reluctant to enact pandemic policies that impact individual rights and freedoms, and when they have enacted these policies, they have sought to minimize the time that they are in place. Republican led states and rural areas have had a recent uptick in infection and death rates, but leadership remains reluctant to implement policies that impact personal freedoms and the economy.  

By: Shannon Catron, EKU Graduate Assistant


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