The red-blue death gap

David Leonhardt provides an informative graph about the changing pattern of deaths between those counties where Trump won (which he labels ‘red covid’ counties) and those where Biden won (which he labels ‘blue covid countis)

In the early stages of the pandemic, the deaths in blue areas greatly exceeded those in the red areas. This was likely due to democratic voters living in largely urban areas where the increased density of population led to more rapid transmission. But the curves crossed once vaccinations were introduced since the blue regions were accepting of the vaccine and got it in greater numbers.

He discusses one particular place Ocean County, NJ.

Ocean County, in central New Jersey, is a mixture of beach towns like Barnegat Light and exurban towns like Toms River and Lakewood. Household income in the county exceeds the U.S. average.

Yet Ocean County is among the least vaccinated places in the Northeast. Only 53 percent of residents have received at least two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine (or one dose of Johnson & Johnson). Only 26 percent have received a booster shot.

The large number of unvaccinated residents in Ocean County has led to a horrific amount of Covid illness and death. Nearly one out of every 200 residents has died from the virus. [My italics-MS] That is worse than the toll in Mississippi, the U.S. state with the largest amount of Covid death per capita, and worse than in any country except for Peru.

What explains the vaccine skepticism in Ocean County? Politics, above all. The county is heavily Republican. Donald Trump won it by almost 30 percentage points in 2020, and many Republicans – including those who are older than 65 and vulnerable to severe Covid illness – are skeptical of the vaccines.

We should bear n mind that even in the blue parts of the country, there are many people with red area anti-vaccine sympathies and so the death gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated is likely larger than even that graph suggests.


  1. K says

    Not surprising--Covid hit the big cities first, taking longer to trickle down into rural areas. Once a vaccine was available, the people in cities rushed to get their vaccines while the rural areas fought against it.

  2. John Morales says

    I recall that there were a number of stories back in the early days of the pandemic about how (apparently at the direction of Jared Kushner) the strategy was to let the virus rip on the basis it was mainly hitting blue states and so it was politically beneficial for the Trump administration.

    Sounds credible to me.

  3. rockwhisperer says

    I live in an area where Trump has always been persona non grata, but it was hard to get vaccinated in a timely manner for the first round. The number of people clamoring for the vaccines was so many more than doses available. My husband and I finally drove some 70 miles to our health care organization’s big vaccination center in a city in an agricultural area, to get both our first and second doses. (Boosters were readily available locally in the fall.)

    Right now my home in California is in a county with a large population, but will retire soon to a California county with a very small population. My state didn’t manage vaccine distribution as well as it might have. My home county tried to, but having most of a couple of million people clamoring for the things is just really, really hard to manage well. Indignant people are quick to point fingers, but these kinds of logistics are a huge challenge, especially if your challenge managers get sick.

    My soon-to-be home county, which only just went for Trump, managed extremely well. The entire county has eighteen hospital beds, and they were never close to being overwhelmed. I think they’ve had one Covid death in the entire pandemic. But even I could organize vaccine distribution for a few thousand people.

    Not convinced the graph is telling anywhere near the whole story.

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