Abstract

Republicans and Democrats responded in starkly different ways to the COVID-19 pandemic, from their attitudes in 2020 about whether the virus posed a threat to whether the pandemic ended in 2023. The consequences of COVID-19 for health equity has been a central concern in public health, and the concept of health equity has also been beset by partisan polarization. In this essay, we present and discuss nationally-representative survey data from 2023 on U.S. public perceptions of disparities in COVID-19 mortality (building on a multi-wave previous survey effort), as well as causal attributions for racial disparities, the contribution of structural racism, and broader attitudes about public health authority. We find anticipated gulfs in perspectives between Democrats on the one hand, and Independents and Republicans on the other. The results offer a somewhat pessimistic view on the likelihood of finding common ground in how the general public understands health inequities or the role of structural racism in perpetuating them. However, we show that those who acknowledge racial disparities in COVID-19 are more likely to support state public health authority to act for other infectious disease threats. We explore the implications of these public opinion data for advocacy, communication, and future needed research.

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Supplementary data