This phenomenon, known as negative polarization, can be a potent force.
Arranging your entire political worldview around being against something can have very strange drawbacks. One recent example: A significant number of Republicans in a large number of red states are, essentially, dying in order to own the libs. At least one conservative writer is pushing back, but even his efforts show how convoluted and dangerous this strain of thinking has become.
This phenomenon, known as negative polarization, can be a potent force. It helped Donald Trump get elected president, after all. He stood against a media class that despises his voters. He attacked an elite class that considers Trump backers uncouth and unclean. He stood against immigrants who depressed wages and took their jobs. If you can be against enough things, you don’t really have to be for much of anything — a fact that also helped Joe Biden defeat Trump in 2020.
Another thing Trump was against: taking the covid-19 pandemic seriously. He denigrated masks, took risks that contributed to outbreaks in the White House and continued to hold live events, including election rallies and a rollout of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, that culminated in his own hospitalization. Trump’s opposition filtered down to his supporters: Though Trump could easily claim credit for the lifesaving vaccines that have dramatically curbed the coronavirus’s deadliness, many of his party’s members remain stubbornly resistant to getting their shots.
It doesn’t really matter how you break it down: Republican vaccination rates are lagging. You can look at self-reporting: When polled, only 55 percent of Republicans say they’ve been vaccinated, compared with 88 percent of Democrats. Or you can look at county-by-county numbers: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there’s a nearly 13-point gap in the vaccination rate between Trump-supporting counties and Biden-supporting counties. Or, most disastrously, you can look at per capita death rates: Ninety-five of the 100 worst-hit counties are in states Trump won in 2016.