Data Wonk

Why GOP Wants to Spread COVID-19

72% of state voters support mask mandate. But Republicans worry only about Trump supporters.

By - Jan 27th, 2021 02:59 pm
Photo provided by Milwaukee Health Department.

Photo provided by Milwaukee Health Department.

Why are Wisconsin Republicans so eager to get rid of measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19? The latest manifestation of this tendency is their push to end Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate, currently the only statewide restriction aimed at controlling the virus.

A recent article in the New York Times discussed a model from Columbia University that estimates the likely number of future COVID-19 infections between now and July, when it assumes that vaccinations will be available for the whole population. The figure below summarizes the number of infections (in millions) under five scenarios using that model:

  • The middle column in the graph assumes that present restrictions continue until late July.
  • The left-hand column shows the projected infections if the present restrictions are lifted in February.
  • The next column shows infection if restrictions are lifted in March.
  • The fourth column shows enhanced restrictions in place until late February.
  • The fifth column shows infection if the enhanced restrictions last through July.
Millions of COVID-19 infections through July versus restrictions

Millions of COVID-19 infections through July versus restrictions

Depressingly, even with strengthened restrictions (which the article does not specify) the nation is facing an additional 139 million infections and the resulting deaths. In part, because of the Trump administration’s incompetence and lack of focus, these future infections have been baked in.

Part of the problem is that many people do not understand just how powerful exponential growth can be. When an infective disease first appears, the number of sufferers can be quite small. Yet if each infected person passes the disease on to others the numbers can grow at a rate that many find surprising. That growth depends on the infection rate, the average number of other people an infected person infects, often written as Rt. COVID-19 is especially insidious because people without symptoms can pass it on.

The next chart illustrates what happens for three values of Rt that Wisconsin hit in the last few months, according to a model called Rtlive:

  • On October 9th of last year, Wisconsin hit an Rt of 1.11. On average, every infected person infected slightly more than one other person. To be more precise, 100 infected people would, on average would infect 111 others.
  • On December 19th Rt hit 1. Every infected person passed the disease to one other person.
  • Most recently, the estimated Rt was 0.91.

The graph below shows what happens starting with 10,000 people. With an Rt of 1.11(which does not seem very high), the number of new infections has grown to 55,000. With an Rt of one, the number of infected people is still 10,000. With an Rt of .91 the cases drop to just under 2,000.

Effect of Rt Values

Effect of Rt Values

This implies that Wisconsin is in good shape. The number of new infections will continue to decline even without more vaccinations—but only if the state keeps on reducing its reinfection rate. Eliminating the mask mandate could be expected to increase the infection rate.

Possibly the Republican legislators are responding to their most Trumpian constituents. Evidence for this is contained in a Marquette Law School poll of registered Wisconsin voters reported at the beginning of October of last year. One question asked, “Do you agree or disagree with requiring masks in all public places?” The voters answered yes by nearly a 3-to-1 ratio. However, as the next graph shows, their answer was highly sensitive to their feelings about Donald Trump. The only group rejecting a mask mandate were those who strongly approved of Trump. By contrast, 98% of those who strongly disapproved of Trump supported the mask mandate.

Require Masks in Public Place vs. Approval of Trump

Require Masks in Public Place vs. Approval of Trump

Somewhat surprisingly, support for the mask mandate was widespread geographically, using Census Bureau categories. As the next graph shows, the mask mandate enjoyed almost the same support among rural residents as among residents of major (“principal”) cities.

Require Masks in Public Places vs. Location

Require Masks in Public Places vs. Location

I call this surprising because support for Trump is highly dependent on geography. When asked who they intended to vote for, “principal city” voters supported Biden over Trump by 66 to 24. Trump won the other four categories by an average 50% to 41%.

The tie between Trump loyalty and opposition to masks is reflected in recent events. On January 5th, a group of Republican legislators from competitive states sent a letter to then-Vice President Mike Pence. The letter asked Pence to delay the count of presidential ballots scheduled for the following day, January 6th.

Starting with the assertion that “The 2020 election witnessed an unprecedented and admitted defiance of state law and procedural irregularities …,” the letter was a last-minute attempt to allow Trump to continue as president. Fourteen members of the Wisconsin Assembly and one from the state Senate were among the signers of this letter.

Among the representatives co-sponsoring Resolution 3, which would end Wisconsin’s mask mandate, a disproportionate number previously signed the letter to Pence. All told, 16% of Republican Assembly members co-sponsored Resolution 3, but 57% of those signing the letter to Pence co-sponsored the anti-mask resolution.

Most of the anti-mask sponsors come from safe Republican districts, where Trump’s margin of victory was greater than in the other districts he won. These are districts where Trump is strong and the threat to reelection comes in the primary rather than the general election. There are two exception to this rule: Joe Sanfelippo and Dan Knodl, who both represent Milwaukee suburbs. Trump won Sanfelippo’s 15th District by 224 votes; Biden won Knodl’s 24th District.

The evidence, therefore, suggests the following: even in districts that Trump carried the majority of people support a mask mandate, but the majority of Republicans in those districts may oppose the mask mandate. The problem is that the legislators are much more likely to hear from the Trump voters—those that accept whatever Trump says as truth.

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here

More about the Statewide Mask Mandate

Read more about Statewide Mask Mandate here

Categories: Data Wonk, Health, Politics

5 thoughts on “Data Wonk: Why GOP Wants to Spread COVID-19”

  1. GodzillakingMKE says:

    Have you thought since the virus affects minority populations at a higher rate that they want to get rid of Democratic voters.

  2. SFGiants58 says:

    The headline and premise of this piece are preposterous, as illustrated by the comment from GodzillakingMKE.

    The principal issue is whether the Governor has exceeded his lawful authority.

  3. GodzillakingMKE says:

    They only care about executive power, local control, and spending when a democrat is in power.

    Obvious, by their “Blame Evers” platform for governance.

    And it is not absurd to think Republicans would be against killing Democratic voters, because that’s the inevitable outcome of what they support.

    Republicans are a minority party in this state that acts as tyrantdon the majority. They gerrymanderd, suppressed votes, run to their WMC purchased SCOTUS instead of doing their jobs, support mass murder via assault rifles by doing nothing, attack public health professionals, polluted water with CAFOs, etc….

    Republicans are spineless cowards and will do what it takes to stay in power. In fact they bow down to Trump cultists and support sedition themselves. Makes them traitors in my view.

    ProFetus to easily manipulate their tools.

  4. GodzillakingMKE says:

    COVID-19 reduced U.S. life expectancy, especially among Black and Latino populations.

    I mean how absurd would it be for the law and order party who still supports Trump to have it’s tools storm the capitol, kill 3 cops and wound over 100 not enjoy these statistics?

  5. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Godzilla makes more sense than SFGiants here. I encourage SFGiants to read once more this article and to pay attention to the graphs. It is clear to me that misled Trump supporters in the Republican party are willfully ignoring evidence of the spread of the virus in support of their so-called leader’s denial of the consequences of this pandemic. Wake up, reactionaries; people,are dying as a consequence of your misguided struggle for political power that you do not deserve.

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