Do Trump support and COVID go together?

Running the numbers on votes and infections

DOES HOW a city or town votes for president help predict whether that municipality will be at high-risk for COVID-19?

 That’s what one of our readers suggested last week after the release of the state’s report breaking communities down into four COVID categories – red for high-risk, yellow for moderate risk, and green and gray for minimal risk. He looked over the list of 97 communities designated red and saw a high proportion that either voted for President Trump on November 3 or turned out in force for him.

 “The GOP and Trump supporters apparently are the spreaders,” he said in an email. “This fact of personal politics aligning with COVID infections is not surprising, given POTUS’s active disparagement about wearing face coverings, gathering maskless in large non-family groups outdoors and indoors, having casual physical contact with others, etc.”

 It was an intriguing hypothesis, and we had to check it out.

 According to the secretary of state’s vote count, Joe Biden defeated Trump in Massachusetts by 33.5 points – 65.6 to 32.1 – with nearly 3.7 million votes cast.

 The state’s weekly COVID report identified 97 red communities last week. In those 97 communities, Biden’s margin of victory was only 15 points – 58-43. 

 Among the 137 yellow and the 117 green and gray communities, Biden’s margin of victory was 38 and 40 points, respectively.

 Trump won 20 of the 97 red communities, including Acushnet, Berkley, Blackstone, Charlton, Dighton, Douglas, Dracut, Freetown, Hampden, Leicester, Ludlow, Middleton, Monson, North Brookfield, Palmer, Rehoboth, Southwick, Spencer, Swansea, and West Bridgewater.

 He came close in a number of the other red communities. He lost Saugus by 458 votes and Sutton by just 10.

 Yet while the numbers show some correlation between high-risk COVID areas and Trump support, the connection seems tenuous. Many of the highest-risk areas in the state for COVID-19 – Lawrence, Chelsea, Brockton, and Lynn – backed Biden overwhelmingly. 

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

 A significant amount of research indicates the socioeconomic, demographic, and health characteristics of a community’s population have a great deal to do with the prevalence of COVID-19 infections. Adjusting for those factors and then trying to assess the impact of political differences on COVID-19 wouldn’t be easy, in part because there are so many variables. But that would probably be the only way to provide a real test of the vote-preference-COVID hypothesis.

 In a recent CommonWealth op-ed, Garrett Dash Nelson, the curator of maps and director of geographic scholarship at the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library, said the whole notion of looking at COVID through a municipal lens is problematic.

“It’s a problem about how we define the geographic area of responsibility of a public health crisis,” Nelson said. “The bankers and lawyers who live in low-risk Wellesley have their takeout meals brought to them by drivers who live in high-risk Framingham and send their children to daycare centers staffed by residents of high-risk Brockton. Yet when these service employees get sick, it isn’t the well-resourced health department of Wellesley that tallies them towards its case count or shoulders the burden of ensuring that the infected patients are staying at home. Instead, it’s Framingham and Brockton that have to do these things, and it is these towns that will be ordered to reverse their reopening plans, that will have to close down their schools, and that will begin to fret about the stresses on fragile municipal budgets.”