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Are the "Very Liberal" more anxious about COVID? Changing?

If you classify yourself as very liberal, you might want to consider staying inside today. It's a scary world out there and you might catch something or worse, be the victim of a micro-aggression.

Or you might consider an apartment at Belleview?

Americans on the left end of the political spectrum have become less anxious about Covid.

Times Square in July.Gabby Jones for The New York Times

Shrinking partisan gaps

Almost six months ago, when my Morning colleagues and I released our last poll about Covid, the deep anxiety among Americans identifying as “very liberal” was one of the main findings.

Forty-seven percent of very liberal adults said that they believed Covid presented a “great risk” to their own personal health and well-being. That was a significantly larger share than among conservatives, moderates or even liberals who stopped short of calling themselves very liberal. Particularly striking was the level of concern among liberals under age 45, even though the virus’s worst effects have been concentrated among older people.

I understand why attitudes about the virus vary so sharply by ideology. Our country is polarized on most high-profile issues today. In the case of Covid, Donald Trump and some other Republicans exacerbated the divide by making a series of false statements that downplayed the threat or misrepresented the vaccines.

To many liberals, taking Covid seriously — more seriously, at times, than the scientific evidence justified — became an expression of identity and solidarity. As one progressive activist tweeted last year, “The inconvenience of having to wear a mask is more than worth it to have people not think I’m a conservative.”

This morning, we’re releasing the results of our latest Covid poll (which, like the earlier ones, was conducted by Morning Consult). This time, one of the central findings is how much attitudes have changed since the spring. Americans are less worried about the virus today — and driving that decline is the receding level of anxiety among the very liberal, including many younger adults.

The share of the very liberal who say the virus presents a great risk to their own personal health has fallen to 34 percent. The 13-point drop since March was larger than the drop among any of the six other ideological self-identifications in the poll:

Based on surveys of 2,210 U.S. adults in March 2022 and 2,212 adults in August 2022. | Source: Morning Consult

A growing number of very liberal Americans have decided that it’s time to treat Covid as an unpleasant but manageable part of life, much as many other Americans — as well as people in other countries — decided months ago.

Back to school

What explains the change? In part, it’s probably a reflection of changing reality. Drugs like Paxlovid and Evusheld are now widely available, reducing the risks for vulnerable people.

But psychology seems to play a role too. After all, many aspects of the pandemic have not changed in the past six months. Both then and now, vaccines provided excellent protection against severe illness; the risks of hospitalization for children and most adults under 50 were minuscule; and the vaccines reduced the chances of long Covid.

All of which suggests that the decreasing anxiety among liberals also stems partly from the passage of time. Trump has not been president for more than 18 months. In his place is a Democrat pushing progressive policies on climate change, health care and student loans — and also encouraging Americans not to let Covid fears dominate their lives.

“Americans can remove their masks, return to work, stay in the classroom and move forward safely,” President Biden said this spring.

One example of changing liberal attitudes is related to in-person school. When asked about the best policy for K-12 education, a growing number of liberals support in-person school only, rather than hybrid or remote learning. The partisan gap on this question has narrowed since early this year:

Data as of July 9, 2022. Chart shows four-week moving averages based on weekly surveys of around 2,200 adults. | Source: Morning Consult

The remaining gaps

To be sure, the partisan divides over Covid have not disappeared.

Conservatives are much less likely to be vaccinated or boosted, which means that many are voluntarily exposing themselves to Covid risk. And very liberal Americans remain more worried about the virus than almost any other demographic group, including the elderly.

That pattern does not seem consistent with scientific reality, given that the very liberal are younger than any other ideological group and that Covid’s effects are far worse for older people. But the pattern may help explain why young people in our poll reported wearing masks slightly more often than older people — and why the few schools and workplaces that still have mask mandates tend to be in liberal enclaves.

Based on surveys of 2,210 U.S. adults in March 2022 and 2,212 adults in August 2022. | Source: Morning Consult

Still, here’s a prediction: Absent a major change in the virus itself (such as a dangerous new variant), the level of Covid anxiety will continue declining in coming months, across political tribes.

A final note

The federal government is likely to approve the next generation of booster shots — designed to be even more effective against the latest variants — in coming days. Within a week or two, these new shots will probably be available to Americans 12 and older.

A useful rule of thumb is that anybody who has not yet received a shot in 2022 should consider doing so in coming weeks. As Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid coordinator, told me yesterday: “It’s really important, especially if you’re at elevated risk, but really for anyone. If you have not had a booster this year, it’s critical that you go and get one.”

Severe Covid illness continues to be heavily concentrated among people over 65, especially those who are unvaccinated or not current on their booster shots.

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