A poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that residents are divided over who to trust regarding the pandemic. The Granite State is emblematic of a worrying trend in which there is a lack of bipartisan trust in experts and public health institutions.
Throughout the pandemic, the public was barraged with conflicting information about the use of masks, acceptable forms of social distancing and public demonstration, the threshold for herd immunity, and (now) the duration of antibody resistance following each vaccine. Opportunists — on both sides — sowed division to advance an agenda and (often) promote their individual brand. Look no further than the disparate coverage of events while flipping between MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN. In a way, Covid-19 became a microcosm of our hyperpolarized — and balkanized — body politic.
The Granite State Panel reflects this polarized reality in New England’s most contested battleground state. In March 2020, only eight percent of New Hampshirites didn’t trust scientific agencies (e.g., the Centers for Disease Control) as sources of information on Covid-19. By March 2021, that number climbed to 31 percent. Even more troubling was the divide in scientific trust based on party identification. In March 2020, 84 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans, and 55 percent of independents placed their trust in science agencies regarding Covid-19. By March 2021, those numbers rose to 95 percent for Democrats but bottomed out at 20 percent for Republicans and 44 percent for independents. Overall, 77 percent of Granite Staters trusted science agencies at the start of the pandemic but only 56 percent a year later. Academic and federal experts need to pay attention to this growing divide if they want to promote policies followed by all.
The truth is the science of Covid-19 is complicated. As Stanford researcher John Ioannidis noted: “Doubt is a cardinal virtue of the sciences, which advances through skeptics willing to question the experts.” But Ioannidis also recognized the double-edged sword of too much unscientific doubt when it comes to public health. Ioannidis understood how this doubt could be “disastrous in public health, where lives depend on people’s willingness to trust those same experts.” Indeed, Dr. Ioannidis is right.
The public health community faces a crisis of trust among many Americans. In particular, it will struggle to win back conservatives. That lack of bipartisan trust has “muddied the waters” for many Americans unsure of what to do or how to live in a post-vaccinated world safely. The months of fear-mongering (on the Left) and performative outrage (on the Right) have left many Americans wondering: “will life ever go back to normal?”
It might. But as seen in the data, it will take time.
The full article is a syndicated column at InsideSources.