Republican governors have been widely criticized for being slower than their Democratic counterparts in imposing social distancing requirements to halt the spread of the new coronavirus. Some Democratic governors — Govs. Gavin Newsom (California), Andrew Cuomo (New York), J.B. Pritzker (Illinois) and Jay Inslee (Washington) in particular — moved to enact social distancing measures relatively early, in some cases weeks ahead of other states. But this hasn’t been an entirely partisan push — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine (Ohio) also enacted social distancing measures early, declaring “we must be at war” with the virus.
In fact, many of the governors who have responded the fastest, lead states that faced intense outbreaks of the virus much earlier than other states. New York, for instance, is at the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. and accounts for nearly half of the country’s reported coronavirus-related deaths with thousands of new cases reported daily.
It makes sense, then, that we see some variation in when states first issued a statewide order to stay at home, but is there an actual partisan split in how Democratic and Republican governors have responded? In looking at the first recorded COVID-19 case in a given state1 and how many days passed before the governor imposed a statewide “stay at home” or “shelter in place” order, I found a governor’s party affiliation didn’t make a huge difference in when the order was issued.
The key difference here, of course, is that the eight governors who have yet to impose a statewide order are all Republican.4 Yes, some of those states have partial stay-at-home orders enacted in some cities and counties, but nothing statewide. And each of those states is now well beyond the 25-day time frame of the median Republican-led state. Nebraska, for instance, saw its first case on Feb. 17 — 52 days ago — and still hasn’t imposed a statewide order.
However, these are also some of the states with the lowest number of detected cases. Obviously, detected cases aren’t a perfect metric, given the wide variation in testing strategies, but it does seem that there is less political demand on these governors to impose a stay-at-home order because the perception of an urgent public health crisis is less prevalent within those states. Their party affiliation probably plays a role in that perception.
Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, for instance, made a point in mid-March of taking his family out to dinner, encouraging other asymptomatic people to do the same to help the local business community. And although Stitt later sounded a more cautious tone, this is a line that has been echoed by a number of other Republican leaders, perhaps because the spread of the disease hasn’t been as prevalent in their state. The virus largely appeared (or was detected) in Democratic-controlled states earlier, so there’s been more pressure for Democratic governors to respond. But we’ll see just how much longer before the remaining governors impose such an order in their state, as there are signs that the coronavirus could grow just as fast in red states.