States with Republican Governors Delayed Action on Social Distancing Measures, Study Finds

Republican governors and states with more Donald Trump voters were slower to take up social distancing policies amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new study.

The University of Washington report published on Saturday said the average delay on enforcing social distancing measures in those states was 2.7 days, adding that the two-day wait was "likely to produce significant, on-going harm" to public health.

It also found that "political variables" were a stronger predictor of how soon a state would adopt social distancing measures than other factors, including state per capita income and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in a state.

One of the study's authors, University of Washington Associate Professor Christopher Adolph, confirmed that the study was still waiting to be peer-reviewed by a group of experts to evaluate the findings.

Florida Coronavirus Outbreak Response
A cyclist passes a "Health Advisory" sign on March 18, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Researchers studied five social distancing measures and the dates on which state authorities enacted the policies—including school closures, non-essential business closures and stay-at-home orders.

They found that the combination of a Republican governor and a greater proportion of Trump voters in a state delayed social distancing measures by 2.7 days on average.

Taken on its own, the effect of having a Republican governor delayed measures by a little more than 1.5 days, according to the research.

"Our findings are unambiguous: political variables are the strongest predictor of the early adoption of social distancing policies," the paper reads. "All else equal, states with Republican governors and Republican electorates delayed each social distancing measure by an average of 2.70 days."

It adds that the "electoral motivations" and career ambitions of GOP governors had to be considered when explaining the cause of the average delays.

"Elected officials, regardless of party, must be responsive to the concerns of their voters and party leaders," the study said.

Speaking to Newsweek about his research, Adolph explained that states with Republican governors may have been slower to implement social distancing measures because "partisans tend to minimize their own leaders' mistakes."

"It's telling that Republican voters were more concerned about Ebola in Obama's administration than they were about COVID-19 in the middle of March 2020," he added.

"Second, presidential leadership matters: when Trump downplayed the coronavirus threat, and his message was echoed in Republican-leaning media, it magnified many Republican voters' suspicions that the virus was a hoax."

He added that the combination of "voter skepticism and presidential opposition" might have made it "much harder" for Republican governors to introduce measures sooner.

Giving his assessment of the white paper, political science lecturer Dr. Thomas Gift of University College London told Newsweek by email: "The study is carefully designed and provides a convincing analysis of how partisan politics appears to shape the timing of state-level responses to COVID-19.

"Its key finding—that Republican states have, all else equal, been slower to respond to the outbreak than Democratic states in announcing social distancing policies—provides a useful attempt at isolating the impact of politics, apart from other variables that might influence this outcome, such as the percentage of elderly in the state, average income levels, and the extent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in different localities."

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.