The takeaway is that people are assessing risks and making decisions for themselves — independent of official policy. Polls show that sizeable numbers of people are still worried about COVID-19. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released May 27 found that most people say they won’t fly on a plane or stay at a hotel in the coming months, while many won’t get a haircut or eat at a restaurant.
Colorado’s official policy now allows restaurants and hair salons to open, but for many people, their personal policies are telling them to stay away.
The Resurgence of Partisanship
Personal policymaking in this pandemic isn’t easy. It’s full of gray areas. When is a park too crowded to visit? What counts as an “essential” trip to the store? Should I go shopping or get takeout to support small businesses?
One way people make sense of complexity is through their partisan identities, which provide a philosophical lens and social cues to help make decisions. It’s no surprise that we are seeing partisanship creeping back.
The same Kaiser poll showed that Republicans were nearly twice as likely as Democrats to say they will eat at a restaurant. Meanwhile, 89% of Democrats say they wear a mask all or most of the time when they leave the house, while 58% of Republicans say the same.
It’s important to note that majorities at all points on the political spectrum are pro-mask. But mask-wearing has become a political signal for party elites, as President Donald Trump refuses to wear one, while Democratic challenger Joe Biden is proudly wearing one in public.
The mask spat came to Colorado this week when the legislature reconvened to finish its session. Journalists at the Capitol reported that all Democrats wore masks, but some Republicans didn’t. Research has found that elected officials are more polarized in their politics than the general public, and their public platforms magnify their visibility and personal policy choices.
These twin trends — the increasing power of the individual and the increase in political partisanship — will play key roles in our pandemic response as we move through the summer.
Public health experts, including researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health, are worried about a resurgence of COVID-19 in late August and September, just as students return to school. Reopening schools is crucial for Colorado’s kids, families, and economy, so we must do everything we can to tamp down a second wave of COVID-19.
The first wave has taught us that people are making policy for themselves, their choices are often ahead of official public policy, and they are increasingly leaning on partisan preferences to make sense of the pandemic.
Colorado leaders have to harness these forces if we want to avoid more tragedy and have anything resembling a normal autumn.