The R’s Have It – The Data Proves Whose COVID-19 Response Was Better

The media’s game of pin the tail on the scapegoat continues. As a lifelong Democrat who just recently switched to the GOP, I have begun to realize that the more I dig into the data, the more I realize how much I have been lied to by the national media. Georgia, my home state and a declared swing state in the Presidential election seems to be at the forefront of the criticism.  Everyone is arguing over which data should serve as the focus for a discussion on the COVID-19 response, typically choosing their most self-serving bit and further confusing the conversation.  The only thing that seems consistent is that most press doesn’t want the focus placed on how the response was handled in Democrat-leaning or -led states.  Despite New York Governor Cuomo calling his COVID-19 response “beautiful” at the 2020 DNC Convention, at least some are now willing to criticize Cuomo’s poor response, which claimed my wife’s grandmother on Long Island on Palm Sunday and where the mortality rate due to COVID-19 is over 3x that of the national average. 

The two primary references in this conversation about the response to COVID-19 are the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Unemployment data. In Georgia, some people want to focus only on total cases. The state’s citizens often are not connecting the dots that Georgia is now the 8th most populous state in the United States, and therefore it should not be out of the ordinary for us to be in the top 10 for cases, especially if we conduct sufficient testing.  With the CDC COVID Data Tracker being the most commonly referenced source for numbers, it’s also worth being clear that NYC and NY state are separated in this data source while other states with major metros (like ATL and GA) aren’t parsed out similarly. This naturally skews any comparison so the rest of this article corrects for this by aggregating NYC and NY state.  

We’re going to look at this data from two political perspectives: that of the leadership and that of the people.  For the leadership, we’ll consider if the state’s governor is Democrat or Republican because the onus has so often been put on them for their COVID-19 response.  For the people, we’ll consider if the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) skews Democrat, Republican, or an Even balance because this could be viewed as a measure of the response of the people, which will be influenced based on the nature of the state’s constituents and the news to which they listen. 

COVID-19 Cases

Let’s first look at the COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.  It is necessary to scale to a measure like this to provide a fair comparison of states with large vs. small populations.  

The state with the highest cases per 100,000 residents is Louisiana, which has a Democrat Governor.  The state with the highest unemployment is Massachusetts, with a Republican Governor.  It’s interesting that both of these states have a PVI that opposes their current Governor’s party; for this reason, you’ll see the color on these two data points change in the next plot.  

Looking more broadly, it’s more common than not that for a given number of cases per 100,000 residents, D-led states have higher unemployment rates.  So, for a comparable measured spread of the virus, the response of D-led states resulted in more people losing their job and needing government assistance during the epidemic. This makes sense, as Democratic Governors rushed to shut down their states. The DNC Convention made it clear that they want the economy to be at the heart of the conversation, but they seem to be the reason why the economy is suffering. 

When looking at the PVI of the constituents, the picture doesn’t change a great deal. There are six states with cases per 100,000 higher than any D-skewing state, notably Louisiana, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama — and all of these states have managed to keep their unemployment rate below the national average of 11.2%.  Overall, Republican-skewing states have sustained unemployment rates of about ½ that of the Democrat-skewing states for a comparable spread of the virus.  

As so often debated in the news, the way we view the number of recorded cases can be considered biased in its own right.  The CDC breaks recorded cases into Probable and Confirmed cases but provides incomplete and differently reported data across all states.  Some states just include all Probable cases in their Total Cases while others have refined this metric.  The more absolute and objective measure is Deaths by COVID-19.

COVID-19 Deaths

When weighing the response to COVID-19 we might more appropriately consider more than just the spread by extending the analysis to how hospitals and other critical infrastructure performed under their local guidance.  Again, let’s begin with a view of the response by the state Governor’s political affiliation.  

Also included in this figure is a box extending to the boundaries of the average U.S. deaths per 100,000 residents and the average U.S. unemployment such that points within this box have achieved both lower mortality rates and lower unemployment rates than the average.  While over 75% of Republican-led states fall into this better-than-average performing box, only half of the Democrat-led states achieved such status. Where is the praise in the national media for these 20 R-governed and 12 D-governed states who have helped prevent the national averages from rising higher?

The states which have both higher than average mortality and unemployment rates are generally led by Democrats.  Is it possible these states had a disproportionate response to the risk that led to mass layoffs and spawned the CARES Act’s provision for federal enhanced unemployment assistance that is being subsidized by the taxpayers of states who didn’t have such severe closures of their economy?  

Guess who is in this box of performing better than the national averages?  Georgia, with 45 deaths per 100,000 residents and an unemployment rate of just 7.6%.  

So where is the widespread critique of the other 6 Republican Governors in Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and New Hampshire or the 12 Democrat Governors in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island who didn’t make it into this box?  Why isn’t the media so focused on them?  

Only four states that skew R on the PVI fall above the national averages for COVID-19 mortality and unemployment rate.  In addition, there are two states considered Even on the PVI and 12 Democrat-skewing states.  

Looking beyond the narrative and noise of the news and their cherry-picking of self-serving singular data points and considering the measured response of state Governors and citizens of states shows that the Republican-led states have both the mortality and unemployment metrics better under control than the Democrat-led states.  

As a final note, it’s hypocritical to blame the President for all of this and at the same time be doggin’ Governor Kemp for the job he’s doing in Georgia. Let’s be honest, it’s a bottom-up as well as a top-down team effort to manage a once in a century pandemic. Mistakes have been made at all levels of government but we’re learning as we go and now we’re much better prepared for whatever comes next in the battle.  I, for one, am happy to live in Georgia and not California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, etc., states that have failed their citizens with insufficient or even negligent management of COVID-19 cases and with mitigation plans that neglected to fully consider the impact of widespread unemployment in this pandemic.

P.S.

A critical thinker on the posting of this article on r/Conservative remarked that a more appropriate measure for comparison might be the change in the unemployment rate from before COVID-19 to current.  This figure shows such for Deaths due to COVID-19 and state Governors.  The results presented in this article do not change significantly because unemployment pre-COVID was generally at historic lows across the country.  The primary outlier is Kentucky, which has seen no change in unemployment during the pandemic with a D Governor and R PVI.  Georgia is still fairing better than the national averages.  

P.P.S.

This article caught on quickly!  Criticism was given on the lack of accounting for the density of a state’s population in the calculations both on Reddit and via e-mails received to POP.  If only the national media received this level of scrutiny when discussing COVID-19 metrics.  Well, things do look better for CA and NY after such an adjustment but other Democrat states then float to the top when looking at COVID-19 Deaths per 100,000 Residents per 1,000 square miles of area in the state.  Starting at the highest (rightmost) point, we have Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maryland.  And, again, Georgia is shown to be a state which does not warrant the scrutiny our Governor receives.