With the nationwide near-total shutdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we asked participants in the Jewish Political Voices Project (JPVP) what they thought about the response from political leaders. We also wanted to know how their lives have changed as “social distancing” becomes the new normal.
The crisis so far shows few signs of bridging the political divide between Republican and Democratic JPVP participants. The Democrats are nearly uniform in their condemnation of the federal response to the pandemic, while several Republicans praise the Trump administration’s actions and say their support for the president has grown. Iowa Republican Bud Hockenberg, 92, calls the federal response “perfect” and says it has “increased my support” for Trump. North Carolina Republican Mark Goldhaber, 67, characterizes the federal response as “reasonably strong,” even though it was “slow off the mark.” He also says the administration’s actions make him “feel better about the President and his team then I felt before the crisis.”
On the other side, views of the Trump administration during this crisis range from scathing to resigned. Virginia Independent Alan Zimmerman, 61, describes the response overall as “criminally negligent,” noting that “two months were wasted while Trump denied there was a problem, and there was no one in his administration of sycophants to push back.” Michigan Democrat Stuart Baum, 22, calls the response from the Trump administration “woefully inadequate” and Democrat Miriam Laing, 50, of Florida describes it as “atrocious.” Stephanie Wudarski, 30, of Pennsylvania, offers the administration faint praise. “The federal response is better late than never, but my bar for the Trump administration is pretty low.”
By contrast, most of the voters are generally pleased with the leadership from their state and local officials, even crossing party lines in some cases to offer kudos. Democrat Nina Stanley, 68, of Ohio, says Republican Governor Mark DeWine’s leadership during the pandemic has been “forceful and exceptional.” DeWine was ahead of other governors in shutting down schools and large gatherings and was the lone governor to postpone his state’s primary last Tuesday.
In contrast to national polls showing Republicans less likely to take the virus seriously, hardly any of the JPVP voters, regardless of party affiliation, believes the response is too extreme. The only slight exceptions come from two of the Millennials. Wudarski, who exhibited symptoms herself of COVID-19, says she “thought it was overblown initially, but mostly because my mother would not stop sending me articles and minute to minute updates.” Democrat Ariana Mentzel, 34, of Michigan says that while she thinks the response in her state has “saved lives” she feels messages on social media and local news about stocking up on food and paper products are overblown.
In their own lives, all of the voters, regardless of age, have upended their routines significantly in response to the pandemic. Stanley is “totally self-isolating from even family and friends.” Virginia Democrat Beth Bendheim, 50, says she is “no longer going out, not visiting my parents and I have prohibited my teenager from hanging out with friends and seeing his grandparents.” Mentzel’s kids now “see” their grandparents only on Facebook. And Wudarski is self-quarantined after experiencing shortness of breath, a dry cough and other symptoms consistent with covid-19. She had two “virtual” appointments with doctors and inquired about getting tested but was told it was “very unlikely” she would be approved.
At least one voter is dumbfounded by the slow start to social distancing in his community. “In my Orthodox community, there were still large gatherings through last Saturday night (March 14)—20 guests from Brooklyn! Handshakes! Hugs! Sit down meals for 100 with senior citizens and small children!” says Wisconsin Democrat Eliot Strickon, 54. Although he is vice president of his synagogue, he attended few services. “When I did, I doused myself with Purrell and stood with plenty of ‘social distance.’”
Many voters are anxious about what lies ahead. “We’ve literally never experienced anything of this magnitude in our lifetimes,” says Laing. Others, however, are trying to maintain a sense of humor about it all. “If you have any hand sanitizer,” inquired Zimmerman, “please send it to me.”
Read the latest interviews with our voters to learn more about their thoughts on the coronavirus pandemic: