Our sentiment analysis around COVID-19 has revealed two groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum with similar beliefs and attitudes regarding its origins, risks, and government responses to the pandemic. The first group typically falls on the progressive side of politics, while the second aligns with the Republican base, Libertarians, and alt-right. Both are characterized by some or all of the following beliefs:
- Vaccine hesitancy or resistance.
- Acceptance of debunked conspiracy theories such as 5G as the cause or an accelerator of COVID-19.
- COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese lab.
- The death rate is exaggerated.
- Lockdowns are an unwarranted curtailment of individual freedoms.
Each group has its variations. For example, the right-leaning group, believes a Democrat conspiracy is behind the COVID-19 ‘hoax’. The progressive group is generally hostile towards Big Pharma.
What both groups have in common are beliefs that are impervious to facts, exhibiting strong confirmation bias, that is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or support one’s prior personal beliefs or values . This bias is reinforced by social media algorithms that filter content, creating bubbles of like-minded people and ideas.
This is not a new concept. It clearly influences the political process, affecting perceptions of parties, candidates, and policies, limiting our ability to discuss the complex issues facing our society and economy. Disagreement is met with ad-hominem attacks and anger. In the case of COVID-19, these unshakable beliefs are impacting adherence to measures such as social distancing and wearing masks, and could limit the effectiveness of a vaccine if one is successfully developed. There should be open discussion about the safety of any rapidly developed vaccine, but it is likely that for many people objective facts won’t figure highly in that dialog.
As we move out of lockdowns and face a changed world, the Satya Foundation will be tracking the quality of discourse in social media, news comments, and forums, measuring the richness of discussion, empathy, and anger. Where we find openness and acceptance, we will share the enablers as widely as possible.
- Nickerson, Raymond S. (June 1998), “Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises”, Review of General Psychology, 2 (2): 175–220