Red Covid, an Update

The partisan gap in Covid deaths is still growing, but more slowly.


By David Leonhardt

Ocean County, in central New Jersey, is a mixture of beach towns like Barnegat Light and exurban towns like Toms River and Lakewood. Household income in the county exceeds the U.S. average.

Yet Ocean County is among the least vaccinated places in the Northeast. Only 53 percent of residents have received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine (or one dose of Johnson & Johnson). Only 26 percent have received a booster shot.

The large number of unvaccinated residents in Ocean County has led to a horrific amount of Covid illness and death. Nearly one out of every 200 residents has died from the virus. That is worse than the toll in Mississippi, the U.S. state with the largest amount of Covid death per capita, and worse than in any country except for Peru.

What explains the vaccine skepticism in Ocean County? Politics, above all. The county is heavily Republican. Donald Trump won it by almost 30 percentage points in 2020, and many Republicans — including those who are older than 65 and vulnerable to severe Covid illness — are skeptical of the vaccines.

This partisan divide has led to the “red Covid” phenomenon that I have described in previous newsletters. Today, I have an update.

Blue, then red

First, some background: In the pandemic’s initial months, Covid cases and deaths were higher in Democratic areas, probably because they are home to several major international airports. The virus entered this country on the West Coast and in the Northeast. But it didn’t stay there. By the end of Covid’s first year in the U.S., the virus had swept across the country, and there was no significant partisan divide in deaths.

Only after the vaccines became widely available, in early 2021 — and liberals were much more willing to get shots than conservatives — did Covid become a disproportionately Republican illness. By the summer of 2021, the gap was soaring:

Cumulative U.S. deaths per capita

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