Trump-Voting Counties Are Neither Vaccinated Nor Part Of The Economic Recovery-- And That's No Coincidence
For 2024 Party of Death presidential hopeful and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, it was-- and still is-- always all about business: keeping open the economy. Today, with "more than 17,000 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19 in Florida-- the most hospitalizations for Covid-19 of any state in the country"-- his pandemic policies are disapproved of by a majority of Florida voters.
This morning, the NY Times reported that "The country is enjoying what will most likely be its strongest year of economic growth in a quarter century... While unemployment has fallen to 5.4 percent, workers have not flocked back to open jobs as quickly as many economists had hoped, creating long waits in restaurants and elsewhere. Private forecasters have marked down their expectations for growth in the back half of the year, citing supply constraints and the threat from the Delta variant. White House economists still expect strong job gains through the rest of the year and a headline growth rate that far exceeds what any forecasters expected at the start of 2021, before Mr. Biden steered a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan through Congress. But the White House economic team has lowered informal internal forecasts for growth this year, citing supply constraints and possible consumer response to the renewed spread of the virus, a senior administration official said this week."
But the growing is uneven.Joshua Green, writing this morning for Businessweek, noted that vaccinated Democratic counties are leading the economic recovery, while the Trumpist anti-vaxx counties are... even more unproductive than usual. Green wrote that some interesting new data on the overlap of electoral politics and economic dynamism suggest that "the geography of America’s economic engine is heavily concentrated in counties that Joe Biden won in 2020. These counties are much more heavily vaccinated than the rest of the country and thus better able to withstand the economic effects of Covid’s delta variant," a trend that was already noticeable before the onset of the pandemic.
After the 2016 election, Mark Muro, the policy director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Project, found that the 472 counties Hillary Clinton won produced 64% of the country’s economic output, while the 2,584 counties Donald Trump won contributed just 36%. That was a significant jump from the 2000 election, when the blue-red county economic split was 54% to 46%. Muro dubbed this divide “high-output America” vs. “low-output America.”
Last year, after Biden defeated Trump, Muro looked again and found that the economic output divide has grown even more pronounced. The 520 counties Biden won account for fully 71% of U.S. gross domestic product, while the 2,564 that Trump carried produced just 29%. In other words, America’s economic engine is bluer than ever.
The partisan lean of these 520 economically vital counties has almost certainly helped to protect U.S. growth because Democrats are much more likely to be vaccinated than Republicans. To pinpoint the difference between high-output and low-output America, I asked Muro to compare county-level vaccination data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for blue and red counties. He found that the average share of fully vaccinated people, age 12 and above, in the Biden-voting counties that produce 71% of GDP was 61%, as of Aug. 22, while the share in Trump-voting counties was 46%-- a gap that’s grown substantially since April, when vaccination rates in high-output and low-output America were almost the same.
“At this point, reduced vaccination rates align very much with 2020 Trump voting across counties, and that-- it turns out-- aligns very closely with weaker economic performance,” Muro says. “The irony is that low vaccination rates are likely to slow economic recovery.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the delta wave has hit red America hardest. Nine of the top 10 states with the highest cumulative seven-day case rate per 100,000 residents as of Aug. 22 voted for Trump: Mississippi (840), Louisiana (756), Florida (700), Alabama (525), Tennessee (511), Arkansas (511), Kentucky (511), South Carolina (490), and Alaska (455). Nationally, there were 308 cases per 100,000 people.
The divergence in Covid cases and the effect on economic activity in red and blue counties may be attributable to more than just low vaccination rates. The nature of work in Biden counties vs. Trump counties probably also plays a role. High-tech workers in economic powerhouses such as Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties in California are far better able to shield themselves from infection than, say, meat and poultry processing workers in plants in Iowa or South Dakota.
Still, says Muro, “these gaps likely mean that blue America may be gaining another economic advantage over red America this summer, as blue areas better fend off the delta variant while red ones struggle with it.”
The difference from the least well off to the most well off counties in Florida is double-- a median household income of $65,575 in St Johns Co. compared to just $32,714 in Putnam County. These are the 15 counties with the median lowest household incomes in DeSantis Florida-- along with the vaccination rates and Trump votes-- from poor to poorest. Statewide, Florida is now 52% fully vaccinated-- none of these counties, other than tiny Gadsden County is even in the ballpark:
Jackson Co.- $36,310 (32% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 69.0%
Holmes Co.- $36,236 (22% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 89.0%
Gadsden Co.- $36,146 (44% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 31.4%
DeSoto Co.- $36,114 (34% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 65.6%
Hardee Co.- $36,094 (30% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 72.0%
Highlands Co.- $35,911 (40% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 66.7%
Lafayette Co.- $35,720 (27% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 85.4%
Hamilton Co.- $35,629 (27% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 65.3%
Okeechobee Co.- $35,490 (35% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 71.8%
Levy Co.- $35,483 (34% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 72.2%
Dixie Co.- $35,000 (25% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 82.7%
Calhoun Co.- $34,053 (26% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 80.7%
Glades Co.- $33,609 (26% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 72.7%
Madison Co.- $33,520 (32% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 59.4%
Putnam Co.- $32,714 (30% fully vaccinated)-- Trump- 70.0%
Trump lost only one of the 15 poorest counties in Florida, Gadsden, an overwhelmingly rural, African-American Panhandle county which has the highest vaccination rate among any of the 15. It isn't part of DeSantis Florida. Delusional, DeSantis insists his spectacularly failed approach is the one the U.S. should be following. He told Fox viewers yesterday that Biden had failed to end COVID and should now be following DeSantis' own deadly model. In his column this morning, Philip Bump wrote that "'We are absolutely going to stand in Biden’s way if he’s trying to bring his destructive policies to Florida,' DeSantis replied. 'If he’s trying to have the federal government take away parents’ rights in terms of their schoolchildren. If he’s trying to continue with his inflationary policies, if he’s going to continue to try to dump... What’s remarkable about DeSantis' effort to compare himself with Biden (as he did again later in the interview by disparaging the president for 'forcing kindergartners to have to wear masks for eight hours a day') is that, even in his own state, DeSantis' handling of the pandemic isn’t viewed terribly well... While independents in Florida are 11 points more likely to approve of DeSantis than Biden overall, they give Biden the edge on his handling of the pandemic... DeSantis is doing the best he can to hold his position as the Republican Party’s leading voice and top non-Trump contender for the 2024 nomination. That means framing his handling of the pandemic as good-if-not-optimal and running down Biden as ineffective and unsuccessful. It means appearing in the safe space of Fox News prime time to opine about how it’s better to try to rescue some of the people hanging by their fingertips from the edge of a cliff than to put up a stanchion asking people not to approach the cliff’s edge. It means telling a national audience of Republicans that he’s doing well on the pandemic even if Floridians are less likely to believe it."