CNN published an article yesterday that outlined how states with the lowest vaccination rates, highest case rates, and (critical to this question), highest death rates are all run by Republican governors and are also largely "red" states.

I have no dispute with CNN's research. It is obvious enough to me from nothing more than anecdotal evidence that Republicans are the ones not getting vaccinated and, as a result, are dying in higher numbers. Someone else may have a bone to pick with the article's exact methodology and data sources, but that's not why I'm here.

My question feels uncomfortable to ask, the but the article seems to beg it: does it seem that the higher death rates among Republicans will lead to a heavy skew towards Democrats in future political elections simply because, quite obviously, Republicans are dying in higher numbers in this pandemic? Or are there other forces at work that likely mitigate that kind of fallout?

I realize no one can predict the future. But it seems unfathomable that there will be no downstream political or electoral ramifications based on how Covid (and the vaccine) have become so politically divisive.

  • 1
    I'm not so sure it is obvious (as you claim) that "Republicans are dying in higher numbers in this pandemic" given that minorities also died in higher proportion... and that usually people in the cities died more than in the countryside. (Maybe Delta changed that latter, but I'm not sure.)
    – Fizz
    Sep 29 at 16:37
  • There's also the somewhat subtle thing about the elderly dying "in waves"... fewer will die in the next years. This has been observed with respect to influenzas. bbc.com/news/health-58659717
    – Fizz
    Sep 29 at 16:40
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    I'm not sure we can definitively answer this? The situation is murky enough that I'm afraid this question will just draw a bunch of partisan rant spam. Sep 29 at 16:42

The mortality rate of Covid-19 is somewhere in the range of 1.5% to 2.5%, depending on the statistical assumptions one makes. While large for a virus — comparable to the Spanish Flu death rate, and far larger than the typical flu mortality rate of .1% — we can expect that the ultimate death toll will be significantly less that 1% of the US population (3.5 million people). Currently it's at 675,000 deaths; I expect after this winter's peak it may top one million; it likely would have topped two million except for the extensive vaccination programs.

Large as those numbers are, they still represent a vote share that is well within the margin of error of most polls. Add that vaccination rates in districts likely vary inversely with the district's 'redness' — meaning that the lion's share of GOP covid deaths will occur in districts that are heavily and reliably Republican to begin with — so I can't see that Covid-19 deaths will have a significant impact on national, state, or local elections. We may see small Democratic advantages occur in highly contested purple districts within states that have resisted mask mandates an vaccine rollouts, but that's about it.

The GOP already has a mortality problem due to its aging constituency, and Covid-19 is likely to aggravate that some, but I don't imagine it will be a significant political effect in and of itself.

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    However, Republican and Democrat are not permanent attributes. We would also need to consider how many current vaccination-favoring Republicans would be sufficiently repulsed by the general anti-vaccination (and anti-mask &c) rhetoric to abandon the party. But I don't think it's really possible to tease that effect out from everything else.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 29 at 16:59
  • You say the "mortality rate of Covid-19 is somewhere in the range of 1.5% to 2.5%" - presumably this is the percentage of deaths to recorded infections. That sounds like the pre-vaccination phase to me. Currently in the UK we are running at about 3.5 deaths per thousand infections i.e. 0.35%, though this was far higher before vaccines. A lot depends on how both death and infection statistics are recorded and how much testing is done. Given consistency in recording the US appears to be running at double the deaths per million of the UK. But I would doubt it is anything like 1.5% of cases.
    – WS2
    Sep 29 at 19:27
  • And of course a percentage of recorded cases would be far lower if the number of actual cases were known. But since such a huge proportion are asymptomatic we have no way of knowing what that figure is.
    – WS2
    Sep 29 at 19:29
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    @WS2: careful of mixing populations. Death rate after infection should be more or less set (with possible small differences between variants). But vaccinated people who become infected have much lower rates of serious consequences. Deep red areas are largely unvaccinated, so should conform to the original numbers: averaging across vaccinated pops will produce low global mortality without affecting mortality rates in these areas. Sep 29 at 19:48
  • @TedWrigley Your 1.5% to 2.5%, was that against a vaccinated or unvaccinated population? Yesterday's figure for Texas was 415 deaths or 13.86 per million, while the US was 2,190 deaths or 6.57 per million (overall). The UK where over 90% of the adult population is double jabbed, was 150 deaths or 2.2 per million. However Germany (for reasons that can only be German) was only 0.83 per million. But your "new cases" are only running at 370 per million, compared to 540 per m in UK. That may be one reason why US mortality to infection appears higher - because fewer infections are being picked up.
    – WS2
    Sep 30 at 6:43

A "heavy skew?" No way.

Let's remember that, as of right now, around 700,000(source) people have died in the US from COVID. In the 2020 election, admittedly a bit of an outlier, 159 million people voted(source). Even if 100% of the COVID deaths were from Republicans only, we'd be talking a ~1% decline in their votes. A 1% swing will not change most elections, and that's the worst-case scenario in which all deaths were Rs.

Simple math suggests that COVID would have to get far deadlier to have a significant effect on voting (at least, nation-wide - it's entirely possible for COVID deaths to have significant local effects on voting), at least as a direct result of deaths alone.


I question the premise of the question. Insofar the cumulative death toll (per capita) isn't that skewed toward Republican states. Out of the top 6... 3 are still Democratic states, owing to deaths early in the pandemic being concentrated in cities on the East coast. KFF data last updated 9/24:

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As mentioned in the other answer(s), there's also the issue that deaths in strongholds such as these matter little for national election purposes. One would have to consider the differential effects in swing states, etc., a much more dicey exercise.

There is indeed about 12 point spread (presently) in vaccination rates between Republican and Democratic counties.

I tried to find if any papers have tried to estimate an effect like that (i.e. of deaths) on future US elections after the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, which killed more Americans. Alas I can't find much on the delayed political effects... There is one paper that tried to estimate the immediate effect on the next election, and not just the direct effect from deaths but the change in people's vote due to deaths they observed... and the author's conclusion that it was generally less than the swing in the next election, except possibly in one state. So they concluded while the result observed was statistically significant, it was electorally insignificant.


It is complicated, as there are lots of factors.

  • As others have pointed out, the current data points at more deaths in red states. But initially cities (which tend to be blue) were hit the hardest.

  • Another factor could be that since mortality affects the elderly, who usually tend to be more conservative, Republicans are likely to have been more affected, both in red and blue states. But also minorities have been affected hard, somewhat cancelling that effect.

  • The main dampening factor would the first past the post system. It would be necessary a very high mortality of members of one party to change the outcome of elections to the POTUS in many states. For example in Alabama in 2020, 849,624 people voted for Biden and 1,441,170 did it for Trump, so you all things equals you would need 600,000 Trump voters (and very few Biden voters) to die to alter the result.

    Granted, not all the states have the same differences and maybe some swing states could be affected, but it would not be that much.

  • Another effect could be by reducing the number of seats assigned to states due to population loss at the next census. But that is still many years ago, which would give time to the population to somewhat return to which it would have been without Covid (the 70 year old who died this year will not be accounted for the next census, but maybe he would have died at 75 and would have not be accounted for anyway).

  • And of course, all of these do not account for the reactions of the public. Will the family of that 70 year old who died after his Republican governor rebuked the vaccine continue voting for the same man and party?

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