Tuesday, 29 December 2020

2020 - A Review of the Poll Findings

President-reject Donald J Trump - sore loser
20 striking findings from 2020 | Pew Research Center

A few things in particular caught my eye in this year's Pew Research Center's "20 striking findings from 2020", especially since they are germane to things I have been writing about more recently - the coronavirus pandemic and in particular the disastrous Trump administration's handling of it in alliance with American evangelical Christians, the growing rejection of religion in the USA (and the rest of the developed world) and the growth of secular humanism and atheism/agnosticism.

Firstly, the pandemic and President-reject Trump's bungling:

Democrats nearly twice as likely as Republicans to view COVID-19 as a major threat to public health

This chart shows as well as any the different priorities between the right-leaning Republicans and the centre-left Democrats.

Republicans care more about the economy than about people, despite many of them perporting to be evangelical Christians and supporters of anti-abortion, 'pro-life' causes.

While 84% of Democrats thought the pandemic was a threat to public health, this view was shared by only half that proportion of Republicans. By contrast, both Democrats and Republicans recognised that the pandemic was a threat to the economy in almost equal numbers.

A major plank of Trump's attempt to explain away his inept handling of the health crisis has, of course, been to down-play the threat by pandering to the conspiracists who promulgate the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theories, and so create the impression that lockdowns, social distancing, and wearing face-mask are unnecessary and part of some 'deep state', satanic conspiracy.

Many Republicans supported Trump in the belief that he would stuff the Supreme Court with fundamentalist pro-lifers who would put their religion above human rights, reverse Roe vs Wade and re-criminalise abortions. Some hoped he would go even further and help them establish a virtual fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the USA, ignore the Establishment Clause and make the teaching of Bible-literalism as real science and history compulsory in public schools, as a prelude to a Taliban-style dictatorship by self-appointed religious clerics. But when it comes to being slightly inconvenienced as a result of measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and conserve hospital services, it seems the lives of others pales into insignificance in comparison to that threat to their individual liberties as they eschew collective responsibilities for their fellows' health and welfare.

This finding is entirely consistent with a finding earlier in the year that showed how evangelical Christians were the least concerned group for the welfare of others.

More voters say it ‘really matters’ who wins the presidency than at any point in the last 20 years

Probably because of Trump's inept handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the mounting death toll, whilst he continued to down-play the seriousness of the situation, tried to supress the truth and showed how out of touch with reality he was in what he was recommending - injecting disinfectant and inserting a UV light into an orifice, taking unproven drugs with known harmful side-effetcs like hydroxychloroquine, despite medical advice against it, and because of his deliberately divisive, often blatantly racist, white supremacist leanings, more people than in the previous decades thought politics in America 'really matters' in 2020.

Even in 2000, when the presidential election was presented as an ideological struggle between the progressive, left-leaning Al Gore and the conservative, reactionary George W Bush, only 50% of Americans thought the outcome of the election really mattered. In2020 this had risen to 83%; a surprisingly high level of engagement in a democracy in which turnout and engagement were previously notoriously low.

Consequently, turnout was at record levels, with Biden getting more votes than any other candidate in American electoral history and winning the Electoral College vote by a margin that Trump had proclaimed a 'landslide' in 2016 when he won the EC vote by the same margin. Trump thus became the first presidential candidate in history to lose the popular vote twice; the second time by double the margin by which he lost to Hillary Clinton.

Trump sowed the wind with his deliberate attempts to polarise and divide American society and ended up reaping the whirlwind.

Trump approval more polarized than for any other president since Eisenhower

This polarisation can be seen in this chart which shows how American society has tended to become more polarised over time, reaching its highest level so far during Trump's presidency with 87% of Republican's approving of him but only 6% of Democrats.

But, unlike most other presidents, where approval/disapproval tended to be fairly volatile, often falling dramatically towards the end of their term, Trump's approval/disapproval ratings have been relatively stable. Somehow he managed to keep the approval of a large proportion of Republicans and never made significant inroads into the Democrat disapproval of him and his performance. His deliberately divisive policies consolidated his support in what looked increasingly like a cult, but won him few converts.

In some countries, ratings for U.S. are at record low

In international PR terms, Trump's presidency has been a disaster for America which has seen its ratings plummet in terms of the percentage of those surveyed in other counties who had a favourable view if the USA.

Approval fell from an average of around 75% in 2000 to around 33% in 2020, with most countries surveyed recording the biggest falls during Trump's term, between 2016 and 2020.

On the specifics of how well or badly the USA had handled the coronavirus pandemic compared to their own country, the EU, the WHO, and China, the USA invariably came out by far the worst, never rising about 20% (Spain) and falling to single-figure percentages in German, Denmark and South Korea. The median score for USA across the countries surveyed was just 15%, less than half that for China (37%)!

Trump's declared aim, loudly and repeatedly trumpeted at his inauguration as he conducted his supporters in rehearsing the simplistic slogans he was teaching them as though they were slow children, to put "America First" and "Make America Great Again" was a singular failure in that it succeeded on in making America a laughing stock in the eyes of the world, and now very far removed from the former reputation as the shining beacon for democracy and progress she had enjoyed since the end of WWII, despite set-backs such as the Vietnam War and support for openly fascist regimes during the Cold War years.

Given Trump's barely-concealed white supremacism and misogyny, and the support he has received from neo-Nazi mobs such as the Proud Boys and white evangelical Christians, the incidental but delicious result of Trump's inept and divisive strategy for gaining a second term, has been to install a left-leaning, mixed race woman as Vice-President, with a very real prospect of becoming the first female POTUS. Apart from the mega-deaths due to Covid-19, and the deterioration of American influence in the world, that could be Trump's lasting legacy!

And now, on an altogether and probably unrelated topic, leaving aside the almighty mess that President-reject Trump will soon be handing over to President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris to sort out, a little bit of news from the UK which has been hurtling toward the cliff-edge of the final stage of Brexit as the transitional period comes to an end in the next couple of days:

British views of the EU reached a historic high

Having taken the decision to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum and after the political turmoil that saw the end of David Cameron's and Theresa May's political career, a significant majority of Brits now have a favourable view of the EU. This is consistent with a recent YouGov poll in which a majority expressed the view that leaving the EU had been a mistake.

Not surprisingly, now people have a better view of the stark reality of being a small, offshore island on the edge of an increasingly prosperous and expanding European Union, there are already a few, as yet plaintive, calls to re-join. If this becomes irresistible as the next generation assumes political power in Little Britain, or what's left of it if Scotland and Northern Ireland go their own way, could be the rump of England with Wales going back in on terms dictated by the EU, including acceptance of the Euro as the national currency and a reduced voice in the Council of Ministers.

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