Recent research shows a connection between areas with high numbers of Trump voters and COVID-19 per capita cases and death rates, according to the Western Rural Development Center and Utah State University — although their findings haven’t been entirely well received online.
Political leanings weren’t the only predictor — other variables linked to COVID-19 cases per capita included low levels of education and high levels of poverty.
The author of the study, Don Albrecht, who is also the director of the WRDC, wrote that “political views have consequences” and failure to follow medical experts resulted in people becoming unnecessarily ill.
“My goal in conducting this research was to better understand factors that explain where COVID-19 pandemic impacts were more and less severe,” Albrecht stated. “I hope that recognition of the role of political views as well as the continued need to provide adequate medical care will help elected officials make appropriate policies and individuals make better choices.”
Albrecht’s findings also showed that “counties with large numbers of Trump voters were initially safer from the virus but then were less likely to implement recommended safety precautions,” resulting in large numbers of COVID-19 cases. The study also states that “while political views and race/ethnicity are related to the spread of the disease, whether or not people die from the disease is more a function of disadvantage.”
A link to the study was published on USU’s Facebook page, resulting in criticism and backlash from the community. As of Sept. 17, the post has nearly 500 comments.
While a few of the comments supported the study, many were frustrated with the findings.
“I don’t need my university telling me politics,” wrote Jonathan Wilson. “This is disheartening that USU felt the need to publish something like this. I support masks, COVID-19 Immunizations, and am Conservative. Please don’t make assumptions. Also large metropolitan areas who seemingly vote liberally were hit extremely hard with COVID cases.”
“Did the university also report that these same people had significantly higher IQ scores than others? Since when did CNN start donating to USU? My advice to the university — stay in your lane. You have no business reporting this crap,” Chad Anderson stated.
“Let me guess.....put out by the liberal left Democrats. You can’t believe one thing they print. Total bs,” Michael Bullen posted.
USU students Chase Dean Harward and Reed Ericson shared their support of the study, stating that USU’s status as a research university gives it jurisdiction to post such findings.
“Somebody please explain to me how this is ‘political’ in an intelligent way,” Ericson stated. “I seriously dare anyone to explain it to me using actual critical thought. This is called social science research. USU is a research university and it’s faculty gets paid to do research to expand our knowledge of the world. Literally nothing about this is political. They selected social variables and they tested correlation. You learned about this in elementary school, it’s called the scientific method.”
Harward supported this view with words of his own. “For a university that is actively seeking to reduce case counts and protect its student body, understanding the specific demographics that have not been reached is essential to USU achieving its goals. While we can argue with the implications of this research in our political discourse, the significance of its key findings do not change,” he wrote.
As the executive director of the Western Rural Development Center, Albrecht’s main focus is rural economic development. When he began to notice how badly impacted rural areas began to be hit by COVID-19, he looked further into it.
The research for this study cost nothing, because all the information is readily available online via the Census Bureau and numbers posted by The New York Times. Albrecht conducted a statistical analysis, which is the investigation of trends, patterns, and relationships using quantitative data. Statistical analysis is often used to test hypotheses and make estimates about populations. Other variables are tested to make sure that a correlation — in this case, COVID-19 cases per capita and political views— has statistical significance.
As an advocate for rural areas, Albrecht stated that this wasn’t a personal bias of his, and he believes a lot of the backlash came from the tribalism of recent political issues. If anyone calculated data, they would arrive at the same conclusion.
“If something happens that isn’t good for them, I feel like it’s my obligation, even if it’s not a popular opinion, to let them know,” he said.
Albrecht also encouraged other scientists to run numbers for other variables to see if anything else could be the reason for high COVID-19 cases in rural areas.
The full study can be found at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ruso.12404.