Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Why Conservatives and Liberals Are Not Experiencing the Same Pandemic

When different tribes create their own realities.

By Luke Conway


Although both groups live in the same country, conservatives and liberals in the U.S. do not seem to be experiencing the same COVID-19 pandemic.  Liberals are very concerned about the disease; conservatives are comparatively apathetic.

This fact is puzzling because a long history of research in social psychology suggests that conservatives ought to be more worried than liberals about threatening diseases.  Indeed, decades of research ties conservatism to threat sensitivity more broadly, and meta-analyses of dozens of studies reveal that conservatism is higher in societies with greater levels of disease threat.

So why on earth don’t conservatives seem especially threatened by a worldwide pandemic?  In a set of three studies, my colleagues and I investigated this question.  We considered two possibilities.  First, might conservatives actually be less threatened by the current pandemic?  After all, the pandemic has thus far tended to hit more liberal regions, like New York, harder than more conservative regions.  It is therefore possible that conservative and liberal differences are driven by a divergence in actual experiences with COVID-19. Perhaps the roles would have been reversed if the original U.S. epicenter had been Houston instead of New York City.


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