What is it about?

Racial mortality gaps due to COVID-19 seemingly reduced through the pandemic. Initial explanations for such inequalities focused on static factors like geography or age-structures which cannot explain the time varying patterns. We highlight the importance of political polarization -- the partisan divide in pandemic policies and beliefs -- that varies over time and space in explaining these changes in inequality in racial mortality.

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Why is it important?

Our findings suggest that public health outcomes can be substantially influenced through political polarization. It also suggests caution in interpreting and investigating reductions in racial inequality in mortality. We find that the apparent decreases in inequality in the pandemic are driven by increasing total deaths--mostly among white Americans--rather than decreasing mortality among black Americans, that containment policies are associated with decreasing inequality (likely resulting from lower relative mortality among Blacks), and that as the partisan disparity in Americans who were "unconcerned" about COVID increased, racial inequality in COVID mortality decreased, generating the appearance of greater equality consistent with a "race to the bottom" explanation as overall deaths increased.


We hope this article helps encourage conversations about how public health policies can be considered with the political environment in mind; while working on these cross-influencing topics is challenging, it has been rewarding for us as researchers to do so, and we imagine in the public policy realm it can be even more impactful.

Adeline Lo
University of Wisconsin Madison

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The polarization of politics and public opinion and their effects on racial inequality in COVID mortality, PLoS ONE, September 2022, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0274580.
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