Marc Hetherington, Raymond Dawson Distinguished Bicentennial Professor of Political Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, is an expert in polarization in American politics. With hosts Jonathan Weiler and Matthew Andrews, Hetherington talks about a recent poll about attitudes of government policies in response to the global pandemic and more.
Matthew Andrews: Welcome to another episode of the “COVID Conversation [sic]”, a podcast produced by the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On behalf of everyone here at UNC, we sincerely hope that you are doing well. We hope for your health and your sanity and that you have been navigating these strange and perilous times as, as well as can be. I was about to say with grace and style, Jonathan, but I’m not sure anyone, I know I’m not pulling that off right now.
Jonathan Weiler: I certainly, certainly I’m not.
MA: [laughter] My name is Matt Andrews. I am a professor in the Department of History here at UNC Chapel Hill.
JW: And my name is Jonathan Weiler, and I’m a professor of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill.
MA: Jonathan, we are recording this podcast on Friday, April 24. So, happy LDOC.
JW: Yes, happy LDOC to you too.
MA: You know, for those of you who don’t know, LDOC is the, I suppose, recently popularized acronym for ‘last day of classes’. When did that become a thing, saying LDOC?
JW: I’ve been told that it’s been about 10 years now.
MA: That sounds about right.
JW: Yeah. And there’s also FDOC: ‘first day of classes’. LWOC: ‘last week of classes’.
MA: [laughter] Well, so how was your semester Jonathan? Anything interesting happen?
JW: [laughter] Nothing out of the ordinary. Thanks for asking.
MA: [laughter] Yeah, no, seriously, how did it go? How was the transition from in person teaching to online classes?
JW: Well, so my courses were, I had two classes that were smaller, seminar type classes and we just kept doing those synchronously. And then the Great Decisions lecture series, which I oversee, we have guest lecturers and then discussion sections, and so the lectures were pre-recorded, the discussion sections were live. And I found (…) I just found it challenging. I found it hard to, keeping a seminar going for two and a half hours by Zoom was just especially challenging. I thought the students really stepped up to the plate, absolutely, as well as they could under the circumstances. But I think just the, just the impact on my eyeballs, in addition to everything else made it, made it kind of challenging. How about you?
MA: Yeah, I was gonna [sic] say the same thing. I think we always suspected that being in the classroom mattered and I think the last couple of months demonstrated that. I agree with you, I think the students absolutely stepped up, they stayed incredibly engaged. We communicated in different ways. I will say this. You know, so I’m teaching these big classes, 250 students, on these courses that have to do with sports and American history or the Olympic Games and global history. And so I would pre-record my lectures and I would put them on a platform called Loom. And if there was one unanticipated joy from all this, I received so many messages from students telling me stories about sitting on the couch with their parents or their grandparents and actually watching lectures and talking about the type of thing, you know, talking about the lecture material. And that’s obviously something that’s unable to happen in a traditional rendering of our courses.
JW: Well, that is a lovely outcome. That’s nice to hear. You know, Matt, just back to a point you made a minute ago about wondering whether this could be any kind of substitute for the real thing.
JW: I feel like when we started this after spring break, a lot of people were talking about opportunities for innovation and rethinking how we do teaching in colleges and universities. And it’s, of course, always good to try to challenge ourselves and do new things. But talk about proof of concept, as you said, that there is no substitute for the real thing. I, that has just been made abundantly clear these last six weeks.
MA: I think that’s right. I think everything from the students laughing at my jokes to becoming very, very silent when I’m talking about something very, very serious, you know, those collective moments, I definitely miss those. And, boy, I hope we can be live and in-person in the fall, though, I guess we’re just gonna [sic] have to wait and see.
JW: Yeah, and the last thing I’ll say is just about that. I think one of the things that made this last week of classes so strange was not really knowing exactly when or how I’m next going to be in front of a classroom.
MA: I think that’s right. And the students, the graduating seniors, wondering when they are next going to be here, when their ceremony is going to be. And I know that the university is dedicated to having a ceremony for them, hopefully in the fall, but at some time, certainly, yeah. (…) Well, so today, we are so pleased to be joined by Marc Hetherington from the UNC Department of Political Science. Marc is the Raymond Dawson Professor of Political Science here at UNC. He is an expert on polarization in American politics. His two most recent books are titled Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide and Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Both of those books, by the way, were co-authored by my co-host, Jonathan Weiler. Marc, happy LDOC. And I just want to know right away, did Jonathan pull his weight when writing both of these books?
Marc Hetherington: Jonathan did in fact pull his weight. He’s the best co-author imaginable.
MA: Okay, [laughter] very good. We all talked a couple of days ago, I’m pretty sure after that conversation that Marc’s next book title is going to be the ‘72 dolphins: Still the only undefeated team in NFL history, so take that [laughter]. Marc, thank you very much for joining us. Let’s jump right in and talk about a poll that you and other political scientists here at UNC have put into the field and you have received responses to. It’s a poll that’s about attitudes about government policies enacted in response to the COVID pandemic. So can you just start us off by talking generally about the idea behind this poll? And then we’ll talk about your findings in just a bit.
MH: Oh, sure. Well, this is a really interesting opportunity. And, you know, the thing that I think was really driving our interest in this was the opportunity to both do good social science while also trying to do something that could maybe help the public. And we in the Political Science department, 4 or 5 of us, put together all of our resources, basically, to commission a survey where we’ll ask people, many of them the same ones, three different times, some of the same questions so that we can get a sense of the degree to which attitudes, well, they exist, they change, and how we can maybe use some of the attitudes that people have to come up with some ideas about how to promote public health and science and so forth. So you know, this was a process that started, gosh, you know, right when COVID started to come to the United States. We got our heads together and started to think well, what can we do? And what we decided that we could do was to create a survey where we asked people: are they complying? Are they doing the things that they’re supposed to do? Then we could use the survey to figure out also, who are the people who aren’t doing what we’d like them to do, and who do they like, who do they trust? And then later, maybe we could use some of that information to help design messages to persuade people to do some things that they should be doing. So that was really where we began. We’ve asked a number of questions about people’s politics, their worldviews and then of course, these things like, you know, are you washing your hands? Are you staying six feet apart from each other? Do you think that businesses oughta [sic] shut down? Do you think the economy is more important or health outcomes are more important? So this is, this is the way the process came together, we created this survey from the ground up. We, in the department, you know, borrowed a few questions that were being asked elsewhere. But in order to do something important and different, we also wanted to try to look around the corner at what people were going to be asked to do next. And that was really, very much the fun of the survey construction process.
JW: So Marc, before we get into some of the results, can you talk a little bit just about some of the mechanics of the survey?
JW: How many people you surveyed? How do you go about conducting a survey like this? And just lay that out for us?
MH: Yeah, I’m really glad you asked that question because I think a lot of people just wake up in the morning they open the newspaper and say well there’s a survey and 42% of people said they approve of Donald Trump. How do you get there? Well, the first thing that you have to do is you have to create a survey instrument that involves a set of questions that you want to get people’s answers to. The next step is to go through a process with the Institutional Review Board here at Carolina, to make sure that you’re doing things in a way that won’t do any harm to the people receiving the survey. Then the next thing that you do is, you find a survey research firm that has a group of people who they survey regularly. We did this with a company called Qualtrics. And then we gave them a tremendous amount of money. And they interviewed 2,400 people a couple of weeks ago, and then in about a month or so we’ll interview 2,400 people again, with some of the same questions, some of the same people, and then we’ll try to keep that going through the course of the year.
MA: And then, so they work hard to spread out the people who are being interviewed based on race, based on gender, based on region, religion, all of these different markers?
MH: Exactly, you know, so this is a sample that is designed to be as close to representative of the United States as you can be. That’s the way they design it. So, you know, we have, you know, people from all over the country in proportion to the different education groupings, racial groupings, gender groupings, and so forth. So, yeah, in that sense, it’s, you know, it’s a very high quality sample.
JW: Marc, can you talk about (…) let’s start here. Can you talk about maybe some of the biggest surprises you found in the survey, some questions you asked, to which the responses were just not what you anticipated?
MH: Jonathan, this is gonna [sic] seem a little surprising on one level or another, but you know, you and I, we both study polarization. And I think the most surprising thing in our survey results is just how much people agree about things. This is a real surprise, in a lot of ways. You know, we always think about Republicans and Democrats, you know, one from Mars, the other from Venus, we don’t agree on anything. And yet, when it comes to whether businesses ought to close, whether it is, whether the government ought to provide stay at home orders, whether it is, basically all of the things that governments have been asking, these sacrifices that they’ve been asking of us, over the course of the last couple of months. (…) Americans agree these are good ideas. In fact, more than 80% of people support all of these types of initiatives. Which, when is the last time 80% of Americans agreed on anything? This is a really remarkable set of circumstances. And you know, one of the things that we’re getting a sense of right now is, you know, there’s a percolating concern about the economy, we see these protests going on in certain places. I think it’s really important for people to realize those protests are really small and almost nobody believes the things that those protesters are suggesting. We asked a question about the degree to which people think the healthcare crisis needs to take the front seat, or whether the economic crisis being caused by the healthcare crisis needs more attention, and fully 80% of people said, we have to continue to focus on healthcare. And again, 80% of people don’t agree on anything, you know, in this day and age. So to me, that’s probably the most striking and strange finding, but it’s also a good one. You know, what it says to me is that when Republican and Democratic leaders, both, by and large, suggest a policy course that is backed by science, social distancing, you know, now starting maybe to wear masks, staying at home from work, if you can, the public will follow. And that’s going to turn out to be important down the line, too-
JW: -And Marc just to add quickly, that also is just consistent with the tremendous popularity that most governors, Republican and Democrat, are enjoying right now. And that itself is an interesting and notable development in all this.
MH: Yeah, it really is. The governors have been in some ways the stars of the Coronavirus response in many ways. You know, of course, President Trump is the one with the biggest megaphone and he’s holding his briefings on a regular basis, but the public opinion data clearly shows that even his supporters don’t necessarily trust much of what he’s saying during the course of those briefings. Contrast that with the governors, you know, who are, you know, whoever thought that Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, or even Andrew Cuomo from an important big state like New York, but not an especially likable guy. How would this guy be all of a sudden, you know, 75% approval? And what it points up is that the governor’s response has been very, very popular.
MA: So did your (…) see how do I wanna [sic] ask this (…) So all right, so you’ve you’ve gathered all this data, Marc, and I’m wondering how you make sense of all of this data? In other words, if there is a divide out there, because it seems to me that you have, you know, on top of the more traditional markers race, class, religion, gender, and so on, one’s view of this pandemic has got to be shaped by whether or not they know someone who has fallen gravely ill from it, or whether or not they themselves have lost their jobs. And these phenomena seem to be cutting very much across those markers I just mentioned, race and class, and so on and so forth. So how do you even begin to make generalizations or make sense about all of the data that’s coming your way?
MA: Well, Matt, this is a, you know, one of the most important questions that one can ask because, you know, if you’re going to do good survey analysis, you have to think in advance about what all of the potential explanations are for the attitudes that people have. We have these statistical techniques that allow us to, in a sense, control for the effects of various other different things. So like, for instance, we know that Republicans also tend to live in rural areas and are older, and that what’s important for us in our survey work to be able to do is to think ahead about all of these different things that might help explain people’s opinions about various different things. And then use our statistical techniques to tease out what is the you know, sort of key bit of information about that person that causes them to believe and act the way that they do.
JW: So Marc, jumping off of that, can you talk a little bit about how some of the findings from your survey, including some of these surprises, can you talk about your interpretation of some of those findings?
MH: Well, one of the things that I think is really important you know, for us to bear in mind right from the beginning, is this is the beginning of the process. I mean, it feels like this has been going on forever, because we’ve been home forever. But you know, one of the things that, you know, we found that’s pretty interesting is just how apparently confused people are about what steps America oughta [sic] take, when they’re not given, you know, the sort of proper encouragement by their leaders. So just to give you a sense of it, we asked people questions asking them things, and these are two separate questions, we asked them whether they thought each country must look after its own citizens first? And then a little later on, we asked, do you think all countries share the same fate and must cooperate to find a solution? Now, those are two opposite sides of the spectrum here. But those answers to those questions are actually positively correlated. In other words, people don’t get the fact that those are trade offs, you know, either you’re going it alone or whether we’re cooperating or whether we need to cooperate, people I think are right now with a mind that we just got to do anything, you know, to make all of this workout. Another thing that we’re finding that’s pretty interesting is the you know, mental health toll that the virus is potentially you know, taking on people. One of the things in putting together our survey, we spend a lot of time talking with people in public health and in social health and in social work, and you know, they gave us some ideas about how to ask people questions in a very short way about how they’re doing mental health wise and one of them is very direct. It simply asked, is the Coronavirus having a major negative impact on your mental health, a minor impact, or no impact at all. And already 25% of Americans are saying that it’s having a major negative impact on them. And another 45% saying it’s a minor impact, which of course, means that only 30% of people are saying it’s having no impact at all. So, you know, these are things that, you know, again, the thing that we’ve tried to do in our survey is to come up with things that maybe not everybody who’s doing media surveys are asking people about. And, you know, a key part of that is, again, trying to look forward about what’s going to happen instead of just thinking about what Americans are thinking about right now. You know, at a certain point, we’re going to be asked to do things way beyond what we’re being asked to do, you know, staying at home, you know, it might be kind of a drag and it’s, you know, unfortunately impossible for a lot of people to do. But you know, before too long, we’re going to be asked to put apps on our phones so that the government can trace our steps and put digital passes on our phones, probably to go to other parts of the city.
JW: Marc, just following up on that, those set of requirements for how we’re going to move forward. For example, as you said, putting apps on our phone, more surveillance based approaches to managing the pandemic. What are some of your initial findings about people’s willingness to consider some of those possibilities?
MH: Well, I think this might be the very most important set of findings that we have in the study so far. I think I mentioned earlier on about 80% of people support everybody having to stay at home, businesses closing, things along those lines. But only about 40 or less percent of people are supportive of GPS tracking, really basically any form of tracing that might be done, using facial recognition software even lower than that. But this is where the rub comes in, right? What people are doing is following the science, right now. 80% of people are willing to follow the science. Right now, only 40% of people or less, are willing to follow the next stage of the science, because the next stage of the science is going to require us to do some of the things that we were just talking about. Now, it’s also important to remember, people are still confused, they don’t really realize why those steps are being required of them. And this is where our political leaders really need to listen to the survey results that we have here and do something to change those opinions. And this is a key thing, Jonathan, because you know, think about it, it’s an election year, it’s 2020. What is the simplest thing for politicians to do? Well, it’s to, you know, just cynically play to public opinion, and capitalize on the fact that things like, you know, GPS tracing is not popular. But that’s going to lead to a lot of dead bodies. You know, what leaders are going to have to be able to do is to overcome, to think bigger, think about the whole country rather than think about themselves. And that’s not necessarily what politicians do well.
MA: Well, Marc and Jonathan, you’re both seasoned political analysts. And I’m just wondering what you think is going to happen? I mean, is there any reason for optimism on that front as we get closer and closer to November of this month? Do you anticipate President Trump, whoever is running for the Senate, whatever it is, do you anticipate them grasping onto this issue and just playing to what’s popular rather than what is right?
MH: Well, you know, I can’t really speak to, you know, what the politicians will do. But what our survey tells us is they have a lot of work to do if they want to continue the country on a path that science would suggest is the path we ought to be on. You know, the first stage has, you know, been difficult enough, right? I mean, nobody would have chosen to stay at home, you know, for two months, and nobody would have chosen to have to put a mask on to go into the grocery store when they have to. That’s been a really heavy lift and the public has come through. I think a big part of this is because, you know, the public’s scared, you know, and I think that that, you know, it’s a pretty good motivator when it comes to these things. You know, and again, the one thing that gives me optimism, Matt is this: none of us would have chosen this path at the beginning of the process. You know, I betcha [sic] if you ask people before the Coronavirus became a really serious problem, about 10% of us would have said I think the government ought to be able to tell us to stay home. Right? Already 30 or 40% of Americans are saying, okay, I think GPS tracing might be okay. What politicians have to do is to, instead of run against and try to get the votes of the 60% of people who thinks it’s a bad idea, you know, they have to rise above what maybe their usual instincts would be, and embrace this next stage of the sort of scientific fight against COVID. And, you know, I think it’s a tough lift, you know, especially as an election approaches.
JW: I’ll add that I have (…) I’ll put this politely, I have little confidence that the president will conduct himself in the ways that Marc is describing as necessary for bringing along public opinion to take some of the next difficult steps that might have to be taken. And I think once the fall campaign begins, I’m personally just very worried about how the campaign is going to interact with what the needs of public health and just sort of public well being are in general. Where I think it gets interesting, and Marc I’m interested to know what you think about this back to the governor’s is, I mean, not every governor is going to behave the same way, but I anticipate the governor’s will continue, Republicans and Democrats, to try their best. They may come to different conclusions, but to try their best, to interpret the science, listen to the concerns of both public health officials and weigh economic considerations, in determining what they think the best course of action is. I think there might be a divergence, kind of between the national political scene on the one hand, and what happens state to state on the other hand.
MH: Yeah, I suspect that that’s absolutely true. And, you know, one of the things that makes the calculus a little bit more complicated is again, fear. You know, one of the reasons of course, that there aren’t very many people out there, you know, in those protests, part of it is that not many people believe that it’s time to open up. But another is, even if you believe that, do you want to go get the virus? You know, most people don’t. And so, it is complicated. We have, you know, this sort of desire to get back to normal, but, you know, about three-fifths of the public does not think that we’re taking this too slow. You know, so in this sense, there’s plenty of room for politicians, you know, whether it’s governor’s or whether it’s senators or what it is, to pitch contact tracing, GPS, and so forth, in terms of devices that will keep you safe, they will keep you alive, it’ll keep your grandmother alive. And you know, it’s this type of thing that is going to have to win the message. And I share your, you know, concern about the president. But that being said, you know, all he cares about is winning, you know, as most politicians do. And if it comes to, you know, be clear to him, that that’s the best path to winning, then he’ll do it.[musical interlude]
JW: This is “COVID Conversations”. I’m Jonathan Weiler here via Zoom with my co-host, Matt Andrews, and our guest today, Marc Hetherington, a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[musical interlude]
MA: So, Marc, I have a question about polling data. And I’m gonna [sic] ask this question sort of as snarky, Matt, all right. I’m going to put on my my snarky hat here, so I apologize in advance. But here it goes. [laughter] The last time I was really focused on polling data was right before the 2016 presidential election. And the polls I was reading at least, they were telling me that one thing was going to happen. And then something different happened, in fact, the exact opposite happened. So I’m just, so snarkily [sic] put, after 2016, how can we trust polling data? Should you have faith? Should we have faith in the answers that you’re getting here? Do you actually look at polling data differently after what happened in 2016?
MH: Well, snarky Matt, I’m going to put on the hat of snarky Marc, the survey researcher, [laughter] you know, who uses these tools-
MA: [laughter] Bring it.
MH: -in my work, and what I would respond by saying is, the polls in 2016 were right. They said Hillary Clinton was going to win by a couple or a few points and guess what? She did.
MA: Ah yeah, yeah.
MH: You know, so those national polls were actually you know, right on target. You know, the state by state polls, you know, of course turned out to be garbage. But you know, what I guess I’m saying here is, I’m gonna [sic] add one thing to the original point. You know, polling is a difficult thing to get right because you have so few people who are actually interested in answering your poll questions and you know, you’re never going to get a true random sample of America anymore like you used to be able to when you know, people were more up for participating in those things. So yeah, we have to come up with weights to the data and do this, that and the other thing to massage it and make it work out in a way that makes sense. But here’s something that I found really interesting when I was talking with the Qualtrics people about doing our survey, and they’re finding that their response rates are skyrocketing, and that people are way more interested right now in participating in even longer surveys than you know, they used to. You know, it used to be that if you got above 10 minutes of survey time, you know, people would be done with you, they’d just start answering the questions at random. But about this COVID stuff, you know, a) people have plenty of time and b), you know, they feel and you know, we made a preamble to our survey, you know, making clear to people that, you know, you’re part of something important here. And so, you know, we feel really good about the data that we’re getting out of this particular data collection.
JW: Marc, along those lines, you you’re doing a panel survey. And can you talk a little bit about that, what is a panel, and why is it so valuable for the particular purposes you’re trying to accomplish with this survey work?
MH: Alright, so that’s a great question, Jonathan. So one of the things that your listeners have probably very rarely come into contact with is a panel survey. So when Gallup goes out or The Pew Foundation goes out and does a survey every month, they ask a different cross section of people the questions each month. They don’t have the same thousand people or the same 500 people taking the survey all the time. And that’s usually just fine. You don’t usually need panel data. But panel data is great for, from a research perspective in particular, establishing causality. You know, we expect a lot of these attitudes are going to change or in preferences that people have are going to change a lot over time. Unless we have asked exactly the same people whose opinions have shown that change, unless we’ve asked them questions about what their demographics are, what their attitudes are, what their personalities are like, what their worldviews are, we can’t know what the true cause of the change in the behavior is or what the change in the policy preferences that they have. So what we’ll be able to do is to, you know, say, track people’s mental health outcomes over the course of, in the same people’s [sic], over the course of months. How does their politics change as a result? We’ll be able to track you know, the degree to which people get fed up with just worrying about the virus and starting to worry about the economy. But who are those people specifically? Well, we know who they were at the beginning of this process when they were expressing concern about healthcare, and then we can take a look at as those percentages change, we’ll be able to say, among whom, and what are the things that we know about them that can explain why these things, these attitudes, these beliefs are changing. I’d add one other thing that I think is pretty neat about what we can do with the panel data as well and this is much more practical, you know, type of consideration. So one of the things that Dean Colloredo-Mansfeld has done with us is put a group of UNC faculty members together with the Department of Health and Human Services to try to help them, you know, come up with different campaigns for reaching the North Carolina public. One of the things that we can do is find out whether people are complying or not, what their attitudes are about, you know, various different players in the process. Who do they like? Do they like healthcare workers, grocery workers, the president, and so forth? And then we can devise what we call survey experiments in the next wave of the survey, using the information from the prior wave of the survey, to see what messages might work on them, to cause them maybe to change their ideas and their behaviors in a way that would be, you know, good for the population as a whole. So all of these types of things, whether it’s the practical side, or whether it’s the research side, benefit from having panel studies, panel data.
JW: Marc, I’m curious, are you aware of whether there are similar survey projects going on in other states right now? Folks trying to inform either the governor or Departments of Health and Human Services in other states, along similar lines, to test messaging and perhaps get a better idea of how it is that the public can be sort of educated, persuaded to follow a certain course of action?
MH: You know, I don’t know, I don’t have any direct knowledge of efforts like that. I’ve definitely seen a couple of other university political science departments you know, that are producing surveys along the the lines of what ours is like. But what I don’t see is the kind of partnership that, you know, we’ve tried to put together with a government agency in order to not just do interesting political science research, but also to, you know, try to do something important for the community, you know, here in, in North Carolina. You know, it would depend on budgets, you know, doing survey work is not cheap. And if, you know, departments of Health and Human Services or governor’s offices or whatever, want to spend the money to gather data like this, I’m sure some of them are, that’s, you know, that’s all to the good. But I’m not aware of anybody who is actually, you know, taking these steps other than, you know, the folks here at Carolina.
MA: Marc, can I go back to something you said a lot earlier just to make sure that I understand you right. (…) This, the politicizing of this pandemic, because some people are obviously doing this, you know, you seem to be saying that there’s consensus in the United States about this or a surprising level of consensus. But this combination of, you know, election year politics and this pandemic, you know, I don’t want to overstate this, but me personally, you know, it is like literally bludgeoning my soul you know, [laughter] when I read about politics, and the way in which the pandemic is becoming part of the political discourse and thinking about people using this for political gain. We have Mitch McConnell denying federal aid to states and calling them you know, blue state bailouts. And I was looking at the the nation today and they’re saying, you know, these liberate our state people, they’re not freedom fighters, they’re virus spreading sociopath’s, you know. So I’m, I’m seeing the rhetoric out there that suggests you know, these two very different polarized ways of thinking about this moment. But you again, just to go back to your original findings, you seem to be saying that most Americans, 80% of Americans are in agreement about this issue.
MH: Yeah, at least right now. You know, one of the things that we live in is a period of intense polarization. And the only reason Americans are so strongly, percentage-wise, behind you know, again, the distancing guidelines and, you know, closing up shop for the time being, is because Republicans and Democrats again, not all of them, and, you know, the president being, you know, the chief, I don’t know, I guess he’s ambivalent, you know, about whether we should open up or not. Some days he says we should and some days he cuts the legs, you know, right off of the governor of Georgia to say that no, no, we shouldn’t. But where I’m going with this is, you know, this is a [sic] unprecedented moment for anybody living today. Maybe there is, you know, a couple of people who lived through the Spanish Flu in 1918, but this is an unprecedented moment. And what public opinion studies show over decades is when the public is uncertain, their attitudes, their opinions are not firm, you know, they are open to change, and their leaders and the experts who inform those leaders have a tremendous impact on what people ultimately believe. And so far, by and large, whether as Jonathan’s pointed to the governors or, you know, the president, you know, mostly going along with the suggestions from Dr. Fauci, and so forth, they’ve come behind that. However, the big question and I think the one that you’re getting at, and the one that keeps me up at night is, when the political costs of doing that are perceived by one side to be too high, they’re gonna [sic] change, those leaders are gonna [sic] take a different position, and their voters are probably gonna [sic] follow them. And you know, one of the things that’s just insidious about the virus itself is, you know, it takes a few days for it to show up, and then it takes a few more days for it to spread, and then it takes a few more days after that, or weeks after that, for people to land in the hospital. And so it’s going to be very difficult, you know, as we open things up, to tie it back to, you know, any specific step that a state took, or, you know, whatever took. I mean, this is just human nature, you know, we look for cause and effect. If the effect is a month later, you know, there’s no political accountability there-
MH: -at that point. So the risk of you know, people deciding that the science isn’t so important, you know that the risks to them are low. You know, and, you know, so will this consensus hold? Probably not. But, you know, leadership, what I’m sure of, is that opinion leadership by our party leaders is the key to whether it holds or not.
MA: So, Marc, you’ve talked about this a little bit, but what are you ultimately hoping to accomplish with this survey, with this poll? You know, who are you hoping to get this information to and what types of steps might people take with this information at their fingertips?
MH: Well, you know, one of the things that I really, you know, hope is that, you know, whether it’s through, you know, programs like this, whether it’s through news media, is that the public comes to hear this message. Because, you know, right now, it’s, you know, we’re all stuck at home, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to tell, what are my neighbors doing? Am I just, am I just a sucker, you know, sitting here, you know, not going to work or not doing, you know this or that? You know, I guess I’m supporting these things, but does anybody else out there supporting these things? And, you know, the media, by and large isn’t going to tell you when people agree, you know, the media are going to tell you when there’s conflict. And, you know, this is something, you know, that’s, I think, actually, you know, really important, you know, for us to get out there. I mean, you know, as a university, you know, in particular, and especially a university that’s leading the way as UNC is, when it comes to the antivirals and the types of devices that medical personnel are coming up with, you know, that we’re leading the way on this, but this is also a political problem. And social scientists also, you know, have a role to play, you know, to cause people to realize that, you know, we got to buy some time, you know, we got to give the scientists and the medical technicians the opportunity to solve this problem. And you’re not alone, you know, you feel uncomfortable, you’d rather not be here, you know, you may have lost your job, but you know, you’re not alone in feeling badly, but still supporting, you know, these types of measures. And it’s these types of measures that, you know, have caused us not to have a catastrophe all over the country, you know, like we had in New York. So I think this is one of the things that’s just really important for social scientists to play this role. You know, the medical personnel aren’t going to tell us about how people’s minds are reacting to this in the electorate. What they’re going to tell us is, you know, how to develop antivirals, so that maybe we can go back to college in the fall, you know, in person. How do we keep you know, what kinds of recommendations can we make to keep everybody on the same team? Because as many people have said, we are all in this together and to the extent that people realize, I’m in this with other people and they see it the way that I do, I think that can really help.
JW: Marc, thanks so much for being on “COVID Conversations” with us today. We learned so much from what you had to say about your survey which sounds fascinating. And it’s encouraging to me to hear social scientists, political scientists, doing the work that you’re doing to try to inform the public. And the fact that the North Carolina state government is receptive to some of that work is just is very encouraging to me.
MH: I really appreciate it. And you know I’d really like to recognize somebody who’s just done you know, absolutely yeoman like work on that taskforce. Her name is Allison Lazard who has been you know just doing tireless work trying to use some of the results that we’ve gotten from our data analysis to create messages that the department’s using. You know her creativity and enthusiasm are really without peer. And thank you guys for, so much for having me on the show. You know what you guys are doing I think is extraordinarily important and it’s a pleasure to be part of it.
JW: So this has been another edition of “COVID Conversations”. And again we want to thank Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, Senior Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, who’s brain child this podcast is, and Dean Terry Rhodes and her support. We also want to thank Klaus Mayr and Matthew Belskie, the producers extraordinaire of this podcast, without whom you just wouldn’t be hearing any of this. And also Geneva Collins and Kristen Chavez in the communications office in the College of Arts and Sciences for the fantastic work they’ve been doing to publicize the podcast and build a beautiful website for the podcast which is covidconversations.unc.edu. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, in the Apple universe, on Stitcher and if you like the podcast please rate us, but only if you like the podcast, and share it, and like, and spread the word. And next time, Matt and I are gonna [sic] be talking just among ourselves about the, just the impact that the shut down of sports is having on society more broadly. So we will look forward to speaking with you then.
Transcript edited by Kelsey Eaker.