A majority of registered American voters believe states that imposed more stringent lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 have done worse economically than those that remained relatively more open, according to a new poll.
The Just the News Daily-Scott Rasmussen poll, published March 9, shows that 53 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “states that imposed strict lockdowns generally had more economic problems than states with fewer restrictions.” Only 21 percent disagreed.
The survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted by Scott Rasmussen using a mixed-mode approach from March 4 to 6.
The outbreak of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus prompted near-universal restrictions, although some stricter than others, with red states such as South Dakota, Florida, and Texas leaning toward greater individual discretion and their Republican leaders stressing personal responsibility over top-down mandates.
“We are not going to have any more lockdowns in the state of Texas,” Gov. Gregg Abbott told Dallas radio host Mark Davis in November 2020, when the Lone Star State was seeing virus cases and deaths surge as the predicted second wave hit the country. “Our focal point is going to be working to heal those who have COVID, get them out of hospitals quickly, make sure they get back to their normal lives.”
Some blue states, such as heavily tourist-reliant Nevada, also were reluctant to tighten the screws too much for fear of economic damage. Nevada’s Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, for instance, has repeatedly asserted that containing the virus is largely up to individuals.
“Some people are going to ask, ‘Why not limit retail, or casino resorts, or restaurants right now?’ That’s a fair question,” he said in November 2020. “That is the tightrope of trying to balance controlling the COVID-19 spread, protecting our hospitals from surges, and at the same time, not destroying and shutting down our economy.”
Unemployment Lower in Red States
Federal economic data speaks in support of the findings of the poll.
The top three states with the lowest unemployment rates in 2020—all of them Republican-led—were Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah, according to a recent government report. And while blue states occupy the bottom rungs of the overall 2020 unemployment table, they also saw the highest over-the-year growth in joblessness between December 2019 and December 2020.
One theory is that blue states are struggling with higher unemployment because they took more aggressive steps in fighting the pandemic, with Democratic governors tending to impose more stringent restrictions than their Republican counterparts.
A study of lockdown measures in states was carried out by researchers at the personal finance site WalletHub in October 2020. It concluded that the states with the most rules tended to have the highest unemployment rates.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has resisted imposing the kind of lockdowns that have been seen in other parts of the country, recently blamed pandemic-related restrictions for hurting the economy.
“COVID didn’t crush the economy. Government crushed the economy,” Noem said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, on Feb. 27.
Noem is among a handful of governors to have bucked the trend of imposing strict lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus.
Given the lack of historical precedent or controlled trials to support the argument for widespread lockdowns, debates over their efficacy have largely been split along political lines.
Former President Donald Trump repeatedly accused Democrat governors and mayors of using the lockdowns to snuff out the economic boom fueled by his low-tax, deregulation agenda.
Noem told the conference that sidestepping the push for deeper lockdowns was why South Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation in December 2020 and why the state’s economy is booming.
However, another likely dynamic for why unemployment is higher in blue states than in red states has to do with the fact that blue states tend to be more reliant on service industries, especially ones related to travel, leisure, and hospitality, which have been hit by the pandemic disproportionately hard.
This may explain why Kansas, which has had restrictions roughly on par with other blue states, has fared relatively better. Its economy is driven by manufacturing, contributing around $28 billion in quarterly GDP compared to accommodation and food services, which contribute around $4 billion in quarterly GDP. That dropped to $2.5 billion in the second quarter of 2020, at the height of the lockdowns, while manufacturing remained unchanged.
Hawaii, on the other hand, which in December 2019 had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.1 percent but in December 2020 topped the unemployment table at 10.3 percent, looked much different in industry contribution to GDP. Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services accounted for nearly $9 billion of Hawaii’s GDP in 2019, compared to manufacturing, which contributed just $1.7 billion.