On COVID: We Are The Silent Majority, We Are Sane

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Because the White House is handling this pandemic chaotically or not at all, because Trump’s primary method of communication is the lie, because the administration has a segment of the media eager to promote its propaganda, because there is another segment of the media which engages in false equivalency, because we get over-reporting on “protests” organized by right-wing operatives and attended mostly by conspiracy nuts and cosplay militia, because social media amplifies everything, because all of this and more leads to a hell of a lot of confusion and dread, it is vital to check into reality every once in a while. This from today’s Washington Post,

A new Washington Post-Ipsos survey of 8,000 adults has big enough sample sizes to break out state-level results for a dozen medium-to-large states. In these places, pluralities say their governor is handling the outbreak “about right.”

The exceptions are Florida, Texas and Georgia, where 48 percent of Floridians say restrictions are being lifted too quickly, along with 59 percent in Texas and 65 percent in Georgia.

Of the governors, Georgia’s Brian Kemp (R) is the only who has a lower approval rating than President Trump in his or her state for handling the outbreak. Kemp was one of the last leaders to issue a stay-at-home order and one of the first to roll it back. He drew opposition from Democrats — and a swath of Republicans — for overriding local restrictions that cities like Atlanta had put in place so that tattoo parlors, among other seemingly nonessential establishments, could reopen. While 39 percent approve of Kemp’s handling of the contagion, 44 percent of Georgians approve of Trump’s. That said, the president’s 56 percent disapproval rating suggests that the state could be in play this fall in the general election.

These are bad numbers for Trump and his Trumpy cohorts and good numbers for common sense. The numbers also back up something I’ve been writing about for a long time: Though media coverage suggests otherwise, Trump’s hardcore support is fringe and always has been.

Here’s something I wrote August 2017, after the Charlottesville fiasco, when people were freaking out over the media hyping the far-right’s call for a civil war,

In 2016, about 60% of eligible voters voted. Roughly half of those people voted for Trump, which means that 30% of the voting age population (VAP)* voted Trump. Fair to say that most of these Trump voters are Republicans. Also, safe to say that 20% of the 30% who voted for Trump are independents and very dim Democrats. Since Trump’s support among indies has cratered and his support among Dems is statistically dead, we are going to play math with Republican voters and no one else. If my math is correct, Republican Trump voters make up only 24% of the VAP.

One month before I wrote that, a Washington Post/ABC poll found that only 25% of voters “strongly supported” Trump. Once upon a time called “now”, things haven’t changed much. On Saturday, CNN averaged some polls and found that only 27% of voters have a “very favorable” view of Trump. The range of error of the polls CCN sampled is 3% to 3.6%. The spread between my 24% and CNN’s 27% is pretty much where Trump’s strong support has lived since he was elected.

Now, it is easy to “strongly support” someone when there’s not crisis or controversy (or when crisis or controversy is self-made); however, if we want to know what loyal support is, look at the numbers when things go bad, such as the Neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville, Virginia and Trump’s “good people on both sides” comment supporting the far-right white supremacists.

Polling on Charlottesville tells us that 69% of Republicans approve of Trump’s reaction to the events. Let’s up that number to 70% for easier math. A little more arithmetic tells us that Trump voters who approve of his handling of Charlottesville before Tuesday make up 17% of the voting age population. This 17% is where the support and troops of the shit-side of the “Upcoming Civil War” come from.

Back to today: YouGov’s May 3–5 poll shows that only 54% of Republicans “strongly approve” of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. So, more Republican strongly support Trump’s Nazi-coddling than his COVID “performance”! The numbers get worse for Trump. A May 11th Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds that only 32% of Republicans support “Open America Again” protests. Do a little more math and that 32% translates to roughly 7.68% of the voting age population who are also hardcore Trump supporters who back the “Open America Again” protests. Know that a fraction of that 7.68% participate in street protests.

So, when the mainstream press goes hog over these “protests,” they are reacting to the spectacle, not the number of people that make up these rallies or the 7.68%. When I write that the anti-vaxxers, conspiracy nuts, cosplay militia, fascists, and Neo-Nazis that make up the bulk of the protesters are “fringe,” I do so because less than 8% of anything is the literal definition of “fringe.”

That takes care of the protesters. What about the protest organizers? As I reported a month ago, the people behind the show-protests are Republican political operative. This is not “just my opinion,” but something confirmed by Time, The Guardian, and others.

And, though everyone in the media knows that the protesters are fringe and that there are Trump operatives behind the protests, the mainstream media continues to report agitation against COVID mitigation measures as a reflection of general opinion. Mainstreaming the fringe elevates conspiracy theory, quackery, and cynical lies to the level of Anthony Fauci’s advisories, science and medical common sense. Militia members and scientists are given equal say on a public health issue.

Again, I am not the only one writing about this. The New Republic, The Nation, and others have commented on the unrepresentative slant of the “protest” coverage and the danger that can result in such coverage. The coverage helps clearing space for the fringe, licensing extremists to threaten violence, including calls for the assassination of a governor. The danger doesn’t stop there.

The slant in coverage that favors the fringe dis-empowers the majority of the population — those who support mitigation measures such as shelter-in-place, wearing masks, and social distancing, things that are critical in the fight against the virus. The uncritical consumer of news (most of us) looks at the protest coverage and wrongly believes that the fringe represents Middle America and some Silent Majority, when the opposite is true. We start second guessing our commitment to public health. We silence ourselves and pull back, ceding space to the cultish obsessions of anti-vaxxers and the incoherent ravings about the Constitution by militia cosplayers.

Fact is: Mainstream media’s fixation on these protest-spectacles aside, a firm majority of Americans support a comprehensive COVID mitigation strategy. The governors who have been most aggressive in implementing restrictions are the most popular in the country. Trump and the governors who are bucking against science suffer in the polls. Less than 8% of the voting aged population supports the “Open American Again” made-for-TV spectacles. In other words, you are sane. Your neighbors are sane. Most of the country is sane. Keep doing what you are doing. Keep protecting and helping each other. And start being a little bit louder supporting the science and sane politics.

*I use voting-age population (VAP) rather than regular voters for one simple reason: Opinion of all citizens matter. I’d include those over 16-years old, if pollsters focused on them.

This essay originally appeared in the May 12, 2020 issue of Soriano’s Comment. Free Subscriptions available here. Become a patron here.

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