One hundred days into the new administration, the Biden White House has seen massive improvements in the new Covid-19 infection numbers — and those improvements are spread across the 15 county types of the American Communities Project, according to data from USA Facts analyzed by the ACP.
To be clear, there are still differences in the 15 types, but every one of them experienced a new infection decline of at least 40% compared to the 100 days before January 20.
There is likely a long list of reasons for that change, of course. The huge spike in new cases that accompanied the holiday season was sliding downward and the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines undoubtedly played significant roles. But the declines have come on Biden’s watch, which means he is likely to benefit in voters’ eyes.
Measuring the Drops
The uniformity of the change is not something the ACP often sees. Generally, the socioeconomic, cultural, and political differences that define the community types take them on very different paths. (In February, we noted how rural places were seeing jumps in cases.) But these latest data are largely an exception.
The differences between the two ends of the changes are sharp — an 80% drop in Aging Farmlands versus a 43% drop in Graying America — but every community type has seen significant improvement.
The data also show that rural community types in the ACP have seen some of the biggest declines. Along with Aging Farmlands, the LDS Enclaves, Native American Lands, Rural Middle America, and Evangelical Hubs, have all seen drops of 60% or more in new Covid cases. Those are all communities where populations are less densely packed, which may have aided the cause.
Meanwhile, the most urban types in the ACP also saw deep drops, but not to the same degree. The Middle Suburbs, Big Cities, Exurbs, and Urban Suburbs all experienced drops between 53% and 44%. Those numbers at least suggested that, even with the declines, communities with higher population density were more likely to see transmission.
Looking at the data at the county level showed, again, how uniform the declines in new cases were. Of the roughly 3,100 counties in the United States, 3,000 saw declines in new Covid-19 cases in the Biden administration’s first 100 days — and three quarters of those counties saw new cases decline by 50% or more.
Larger Meanings and Politics
The larger meaning of these drops, beyond the obvious impacts of taming the virus, is hard to discern. For much of the past year, Covid-19 has been the dominant news story, viewed through a range of prisms: health and wellness, economic, education. And the pandemic clearly played a large role in the 2020 political campaign.
These numbers could be significant when it comes to politics. The community types seeing the biggest drops in new cases are also heavily Republican in their voting habits and most supported former President Donald Trump by large margins. Trump won the Aging Farmlands by 56 percentage points. He won the Evangelical Hubs by 51 points. He captured Rural Middle America by 28 points and the LDS Enclaves by 26 points. The numbers suggest those communities are solidly with the GOP.
But margin sizes matter. A major political story in 2022 and 2024 may be whether the turnaround on Covid buys Biden or the Democrats goodwill in some of these community types. Democrats aren’t going to win a majority in any of these types, but closer margins (something closer to a 20-point GOP edge in Rural Middle America) could have major implications for statewide and legislative races, particularly if Democrats maintain their big margins in urban communities.
How much the Covid numbers matter politically may depend on whether improvement continues across the ACP types. Do the numbers eventually hit a wall?
Then, there’s the larger question of how long the pandemic continues to shape the news. Does it kick off a prolonged economic boom? Do things quickly settle into a new normal that feels not that different from the old normal?
The midterms are more than 17 months away, and the next presidential election will take place more than 41 months from now. That’s several lifetimes in politics. But the improvement in these numbers across all ACP types suggests the potential for a notable political shift ahead.