arizona reopen AP Photo/Matt York

A University of Arizona professor says differing opinions on COVID-19 often come down to personal experiences and an urban vs. rural divide.

Americans are sharply divided by political party when it comes to the coronavirus. According to a Pew Research Center survey released in mid-March, more than half of Democrats believed coronavirus to be a major threat to the country’s health, while only 33% of Republicans did so. 

However, Samara Klar, an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Government and Public Policy, said she sees the political divide as more of an urban vs. rural divide. 

“[The coronavirus] hasn’t affected everyone equally,” she explained. 

Larger coronavirus outbreaks have occurred in dense cities, which are more likely to have residents who identify as Democrats. On the flip side, people who live in rural areas and are less likely to experience the virus are more often Republicans. 

“People are going to rely a lot on their personal experience when evaluating [the virus],” Klar told The Copper Courier. “And Democrats and Republicans, we have seen in surveys, have been differentially affected by it. Democrats are much more likely to know somebody who has it. They’re more likely to know somebody’s who died from it. So those things are going to change … perceived severity in a crisis.” 

Arizona, a Republican-led state with a vast majority of rural land, has seen fewer coronavirus cases and deaths than many other states. As of Monday, the state had 8,919 cases and 362 deaths. By comparison, Queens County in New York alone had 52,305 cases. New York state had about 313,000 cases. 

It’s also been one of the states with a noticeable movement to reopen businesses. Protesters have organized at the state Capitol multiple times in recent weeks to demand a lifting of restrictions, and some businesses have been operating anyway despite Gov. Doug Ducey’s orders to stay closed. 

Klar said differences in opinion about the coronavirus and the country’s response to it also comes down to a class divide. 

Nearly 514,000 Arizonans have applied for unemployment since the pandemic caused businesses to closed. And in normal times, Arizona generally has a lower median income than the national average and an above-average poverty rate.

“People who are wealthier, who can rely on stable paychecks are much more willing to say that maybe it’s best that we all continue to stay home,” Klar said. “People who are out of work haven’t seen a paycheck in a month and a half are understandably a lot more eager to get back to work.” 

How People View Trump

Klar said the political divide in how people have judged President Donald Trump’s response to the virus is pretty normal, although he seems to have missed out on an opportunity for an increase in supporters.

“This is such a big crisis,” Klar said. “You would think that voters might be coming together a little more to rally around the President … [but] we really haven’t seen that.”

She said people’s opinions on the President are often backed up by which media source they choose to get information from, as Democrats are more likely to choose liberal-leaning sources while Republicans choose the opposite.

“They’re going to be seeing information that’s going to line up with their prior views of President Trump,” Klar said. “I think there was a hope that with his daily briefings that potentially everybody would be kind of watching the same thing, but it seems like those have been polarizing if anything. We haven’t really managed to bring people together.”

She added that the most difficult part about sharing information and getting everyone on the same page is how uncertain everyone is about the future.

“There are studies out there that can be as optimistic as you want them to be or as pessimistic as you want them to be,” she said, “depending on what you’re looking for and how you’re going to interpret them.”

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