Slowdown of COVID-19 in Australia

Since its first reported case on 25 January, Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unique. Rather than imposing strict lockdowns aimed at halting non-essential activities for a few weeks (which has been the prevalent approach around the world), the Federal Government’s emphasis has been on implementing social-distancing rules viable for at least six months.

On March 22, and after 28 days of the first confirmed case, Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison announced Stage 1 of a set of social distancing measures aimed at reducing social interactions while minimising economic disruption. The PM stated:

“We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow this virus down must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives, allow Australia to keep functioning and keep Australians in jobs.”

The initial set of measures included restrictions to social gatherings of more than 500 people outside or more than 100 people inside, the closure of entertainment venues, and suggestions on how to practice social distancing.

These restrictions were tightened on 29 March following what has been, so far, the highest daily increase in confirmed cases, with 460 new cases reported on 28 March. These Stage 2 measures reduced indoor and outdoor gatherings to two persons only, and Australians were strongly advised to stay home unless for essential activities; such as shopping for supplies, medical needs, and exercise. But, despite these stricter measures, the government maintained its commitment to policies that could be sustained for at least six months while balancing out the health and economic effects of the pandemic.

Although, these restrictions have resulted in thousands of jobs lost and entire industries in desperate need for help, so far, they have been effective in controlling – and even reducing – the spread of the virus in the community. This figure shows the seven-day moving average growth rate in COVID-19 confirmed cases since Australia reported its 100th case. After peaking at nearly 25% in early March, this rate has dropped to its lowest level at 4.5% on 6 April, 28 days after the country reached 100 cases.

australia_coronavirus_geps

In comparison, the average growth rate between the more severely affected countries in Europe and the US, was almost four times higher at 16.1%, after reaching 100 cases. Even China, one of the most successful countries in containing the spread of the virus – according to the official figures – was sitting at a 10% growth rate 28 days after reaching their 100th case.

Overall, and despite specific blunders – such as the infamous Ruby Princess case – State and Federal governments in Australia have been successful in “flattening the curve” and slowing the spread of COVID-19. Let’s hope this trend continues.

 

 

US Media Preferences

In the US, people on both sides of the political spectrum claim media outlets do not report political issues fairly. Out of three most-watched networks, CNN and MSNBC are considered liberal-biased, whereas for many people Fox News is the paramount example of a conservative-biased news source.

This animation shows the most-watched news outlet by county between 2005 and 2017. Blue for counties in which the combined TV ratings of CNN and MSNBC (the liberal-biased outlets) are higher than those of FOX News, and red for counties where Fox News is the dominant news source. The percentages next to the networks’ names represent the proportion of US counties for which those networks where the most-watched that year.

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Interestingly, the most-watched news network varies considerably both, across counties and through time. In the period leading up to the 2008 presidential election, liberal outlets ratings were on the rise. The year president Obama won his first presidential election, liberal outlets were the most-watched in 45% of US counties – the highest point for liberal outlets in the period observed. During the entire Obama administration, however, liberal outlets only took first place as most-watched in less than 26% of all counties. Could this be the effect of a conservative backlash to a president perceived as fully embodying liberal values?

The 2016 presidential election seems to be another turning point for media preferences – with many counties turning blue. By 2017, 37% of US counties have liberal outlets as most-watched. A liberal backlash to the election of president Trump? Backlash or not, media preferences seem to correlate negatively with the political affiliation of the president in office.

US Political Polarisation

A few minutes browsing online and we’ll encounter hundreds of people voicing their strong views on a wide range of topics such as immigration, religion, and the never ending free market versus interventionist state” debate. This reality speaks to a continuing polarisation of world views amplified nowadays by social media platforms such as twitter and facebook.

In the US, the last few decades have seen political polarisation on the rise with the phenomenon becoming more prevalent in recent years. Several causes have been identified for this growing trend. These include, growing racial and ethnic diversity, new digital media outlets, the rise of identity politics, among others (see The Top 14 Causes of Political Polarization).

Academics have also weighed into this issue as early as 1984 with empirical measures aimed to quantify this polarisation. For instance, the political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal developed a statistical method called NOMINATE to determine the ideological position of US congress members based on their voting records. The first dimension of the NOMINATE score measures where every congress member fits on the economic Liberal-Conservative spectrum. In this sense, the score represents each congress member ideological view with respect to the fundamental role of government in the economy.  The values of this ideology score range from -1 for the most liberal legislators to 1 for the most conservative ones.

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The figure here builds on the methodology developed by Poole and Rosenthal and shows the distribution of their ideology score for all US congress members from the 81st congress (1950) to the 115th (2018). As expected, democrats have predominantly negative scores and republican positive ones. Also, by construction, values close to zero represent centrist legislators. That is, those who are more likely to “cross the aisle” and support bills sponsored by the opposite party. Given the lack of overlap of the two distributions in recent years, these centrist legislators are now non-existent.

The recent absence of more moderate congress members can be interpreted as another symptom of a widespread polarisation in US politics.  A major problem of a polarised political landscape is that it lessens the probability of bipartisan solutions for the most pressing (and perhaps even existential) problems of today’s world such as climate change.