Coronavirus first spread in the United States as a mostly coastal and big-city scourge, sparing many rural areas, small towns and even small cities. Translated into U.S. political geography: The virus hit Democratic areas first.
No more. An Associated Press analysis of coronavirus case data shows the virus has moved — and is spreading quickly — into Republican areas, a new path with broad potential political ramifications.
States that President Donald Trump won in the 2016 election account for about 75% of the new cases, a trend that has accelerated since the end of May. Counties that voted for Trump in 2016 have seen cases and deaths rising — now seeing an impact nearly even with counties that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The virus’s spread into red America could scramble partisan divisions over the disease. In the first phase, the virus was an undeniable reality for many Democrats, and it largely fell to Democratic governors and mayors to issue the strictest stay-at-home orders that helped slow the economy to a crawl.
Trump’s base, meanwhile, wasn’t so directly affected. His supporters have been less likely to support preventive measures, more likely to believe dangers were exaggerated and less likely to worry about friends or family contracting the virus. Some Republican governors followed the president’s lead, taking longer to issue stay-at-home orders, making the orders less strict when they did, and then more eagerly relaxing the limits on business operations in late April and May.
Already the latest surge is forcing some GOP governors to reverse course. It remains unclear whether it will also force GOP voters to reassess their opinion on the virus and their leaders’ handling of the crisis.
New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, last week pulled no punches in seeking some vindication for himself and other Democrats who battled the virus first and faced skepticism from Trump and other Republicans.
“It was never politics,” Cuomo said. “It was always science.”
One clear pattern is emerging: A state’s governor seems to matter. New cases in states with Republican governors, regardless of how those states voted in 2016, now considerably outpace those in states run by Democrats. That circumstance comes after months of trending away from the initial analysis, when Democratic states were the hotspots.
That trend roughly reflects how the two parties’ governors have approached the pandemic. GOP governors generally have leaned more heavily in favor of lighter government restrictions on social gatherings and business operations. Democratic governors, on average, have embraced stricter restrictions and more forcefully advocated for caution.