Morbid Polarization: Exposure to COVID-19 and Partisan Disagreement about Pandemic Response

Cristian G. Rodriguez, Shana Kushner Gadarian, Sara Wallace Goodman, Thomas B. Pepinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of all Americans, but the severity of the pandemic has been experienced unevenly across space and time. Some states saw sharp rises in COVID-19 cases in early March, whereas case counts rose much later in the rest of the country. In this article, we examine the relationship between exposure to COVID-19 and citizens' views on what type of measures are required to deal with the crises and how experience with and exposure to COVID-19 is associated with greater partisan polarization. We find consistent evidence of partisan divergence in pandemic-response policy preferences across the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic: Republicans support national control measures whereas Democrats support welfare policies, and interparty differences grow over time. We find only limited evidence that exposure or experience moderates these partisan differences. Our findings are consistent with the view that Americans interpret the COVID-19 pandemic in fundamentally partisan manner, and that objective pandemic conditions play at most a minor role in shaping mass preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1169-1189
Number of pages21
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • pandemic policies
  • partisanship
  • polarization
  • risk avoidance
  • terror management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations


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