RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The COVID-19 partisan divide appears to be growing even wider in North Carolina.
“It does seem as though there is a widening gap,” North Carolina State University political science professor Andrew Taylor said.
An analysis of state Department of Health and Human Services data shows the trend in North Carolina’s 100 counties mirroring one observed nationally by The New York Times in its “Red Covid” story.
“Unfortunately, this is the partisan infection by COVID-19 on our society,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College who has performed several analyses on the various factors that influence the vaccine push.
It’s been a common theme throughout the vaccine rollout: Many of the reddest areas tend to have lower vaccination rates.
And the CBS17.com analysis found that over the past three months, that correlation became even stronger between the share of votes Republican Donald Trump received in the presidential election last year and its vaccination rate.
“A county’s vote for Donald Trump in 2020 is a much stronger predictor of what the vaccination rate will be in that particular county,” Bitzer said.
His study in July found that a county’s per capita income was an even bigger factor than voting results in predicting what share of a county’s population would get the shots.
He revised that study this week after finding the correlation between voting and vaccines became even stronger.
“I think what we’re looking at now is really the core of the Trump voting bloc being ones that will not get the vaccination — oftentimes, unfortunately — until it is too late,” he said.
The Times also looked compared the counties at both extremes — those where Trump either received at least 70 percent of votes, or fewer than one-third of them — and found the death rate due to COVID over the past six months was nearly five times higher in the reddest counties than in the bluest ones.
A similar trend emerged in North Carolina — but it comes with a warning that the sample sizes are much smaller. For example, there are only three counties in the state — Durham, Orange and Mecklenburg — where fewer than 32 percent of votes went to Trump.
In a big-picture sense, though, the trend is visible.
“I think what that overall dynamic tells me as a social scientist is that indeed, North Carolina is kind of replicating what is going on nationally,” Bitzer said.
So how can that gap be bridged?
Taylor points to the spike in vaccinations that followed the surge in cases and hospitalized patients driven by the delta variant as an indicator that some doubters changed their minds after seeing the effects of the virus up close.
“What they see and when they have friends or relatives who get the virus and some people are suffering greatly from it, that tends to drive decisions as much as politicians,” Taylor said.
“I do think when people realize that, they tend to sort of say, ‘You know what, maybe I should get the vaccination. So and so down the street has it, he’s … pretty sick. I don’t care about politics and I’m going to go get vaccinated.’”