Alabama v. Australia

A casual comparison is pretty striking.

So, I had an e-mail interchange with an acquaintance in Australia yesterday wherein it was commented that Australia is still under coronavirus lockdown rules. That made me curious, so I looked at a very quick comparison between Alabama and Australia.

Using Worldometers, I get the following Covid-19 stats:

Alabama: 804,249 cases and 16,612 deaths.

Australia: 120,043 cases and 1,389 deaths

These are raw numbers not adjusted for population. Note that Alabama has a population of ~4.9 million and Australia has a population of ~25.7 million.

There is certainly a deeper conversation one could have about the relative merits of lockdown policies and other factors in a broader comparison that I don’t have time for at the moment. Still, while I certainly expected that Australia would have better numbers than the US, the above (comparing one, mid-sized state to the whole of the Land Down Under) is pretty damn striking.

As I keep saying: politics and policies matter for real-world outcomes.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Health
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    As I keep saying, while the US response was particularly egregious, much of the rest of the world, including the WHO, have also massively failed. Proof: look at COVID numbers all over the world.

    Had all countries mustered a response like Australia’s, New Zealand’s, South Korea’s, Taiwan’s, or Vietnam’s*, this thing would have been over by now given the high efficacy of vaccines.

    *Vietnam has let down its guard, and hasn’t vaccinated enough of their population, so that numbers there are catching up to the rest of the world now.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    politics and policies matter for real-world outcomes

    While this is true, I think you continue to overestimate the impact of elected officials and underestimate the impact of the core beliefs of those that put them in power.

    The overestimation, because positing politicians who could get elected yet then tell their patrons and voters thinks they (violently) do not want to hear is just a thought experiment that won’t work in the real world.

    And underestimation because you assume the core belief of the base and the voters in the Trump states is that the purpose of governance is to promote the common good. In reality, the core belief of the motivated majority is that the purpose of governance is to maintain the social hierarchy and keep people from getting above themselves. Violence and death has always been an acceptable byproduct.

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  3. @MarkedMan:

    you assume the core belief of the base and the voters in the Trump states is that the purpose of governance is to promote the common good

    When have I said that?

    the core belief of the motivated majority is that the purpose of governance is to maintain the social hierarchy and keep people from getting above themselves.

    I am pretty sure, in fact, that I have noted this on multiple occasions, although perhaps not in those exact words.

    Is not that an example of the consequences of politics?

    Violence and death has always been an acceptable byproduct.

    Violence and death are, unfortunately, often a direct consequence of politics and policy (not to sound snarky–that is not my intent, although perhaps I am being a little wry–much of my published work is on Colombia, after all).

    It is possible that I have not explained my points about partisanship as well as I could, but also that you are not fully understanding what I have been saying.

    I have never stated (which it sometimes seem you think I am saying) that voter are solely being driven by elite cues. I am not arguing a bunch of blank slates waiting to be told what to do.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    It is easier to shut down when you’re an island nation. But we need to give credit to the, mostly SE Asia nations that staved off the worst of the outset of Covid. Where they are failing now is getting vaccinated. That maybe due to lack of domestic production capabilities, but it is also due to the leadership in these countries not being aggressive enough in seeking to procure a vaccine.

    We’re on the cusp of the third year of this epidemic and Australia and other nations are still using the tools that were invoked to stem the emergency and for some countries, like Viet Nam, the old tools no longer work. There is a cost to society when the lock down extends to years, unfortunately we don’t know that cost.

    Just imagine, that if Viet Nam, Australia and New Zealand, were at a 70% vax rate.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    My home state of FL, with a population roughly equal to Australia, has 3.5 million cases and 55 thousand dead. And my Governor (sic) DeSantis has said Australia should look to him for guidance.

    I might cut him some slack for catering to the opinions of his constituents, but like his role model, Trump, he’s done so much to stoke the opinions of his constituents.

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  6. Michael Cain says:

    I have to admit that I’m more curious about how Australia has dealt with the economic disruption caused by their lockdown. Presumably lots of jobs (and even entire businesses) have been lost. Yet the rent is still due, and people need to eat, make their car payments, etc, etc.

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  7. Tony W says:

    Politics matters – but I prefer to say “Leadership matters”.

    Leadership is how you get people to do things they don’t want to do. Things that have short-term pain, but ultimately benefit the group in the long term.

    At the moment we have a dearth of leadership in our federal and many state governments. There are some governors that are doing very well – Gavin Newsome and Jay Inslee come to mind, but there are others.

    Joe Biden, while far better than Donald Trump, is saying the right things, but we don’t have the level of leadership we need from Mr. Biden at the moment. I would like to see prime-time evening addresses to the nation from the oval office. I want Ad Council-style commercials fighting disinformation, the way I see my state health department doing. I want an aggressive Justice Department fighting state governors who are endangering their folks.

    Without dramatic, direct appeals to the American people to pull together and fight this off, we’re not going to ever succeed against COVID, much less whatever virus comes next.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @Tony W: Leadership requires a commitment to something bigger than one’s own career. That is always rare in politics and has been almost completely driven from the Republican Party. I feel Barack Obama set out to be the best Barack Obama he could be. Ted Cruz set out to be the richest and most powerful Ted Cruz he could be. To illustrate my point, insert other names appropriately.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have never stated (which it sometimes seem you think I am saying) that voter are solely being driven by elite cues. I am not arguing a bunch of blank slates waiting to be told what to do.

    Nor have I ever stated that you are. We both agree that there is a wide range of motivators, with varying degrees of effectiveness, and all I said is what I meant: I think you overestimate the efficacy of one particular motivator.

    As for the rest of my remark, let me make it more clear: the people who chose the politicians in the Trump states (patrons and motivated voters) feel they are benefiting from the COVID response and have little incentive to change it. Jim Crow governance (social dominance) requires pitting groups against each other and inciting mobs. The occasional loss of life serves to get people even more emotional and set them even more strongly against each other.

    When you say politics matter, I agree. But changing leaders doesn’t. Or, more precisely, unless enough of the people holding power change their core belief about what constitutes good governance, any change in leadership will be a like-for-like exercise.

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  10. @MarkedMan:

    But changing leaders doesn’t.

    It can, especially on specific policy decisions (which is at least part of why I differentiate politics and policy).

    There is nothing about the choices about masking and other issues that Trump chose that are inherent to the broader politics of the current GOP. (As evidence by the fact that not every GOP governor has behaved the same and I mean even regionally: Ivey v. Kemp, for example).

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  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    Had all countries mustered a response like Australia’s, New Zealand’s, South Korea’s, Taiwan’s

    It should be noted that three of those countries are islands and one (South Korea) is effectively an island, which presents certain advantages in terms of controlling the spread of disease…

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @MarkedMan: Chicken / egg. The potential for mask and vaccine was inherent in the RW electorate. Would it have reached current levels without Trump embracing it? If he had actively promoted masking and vaccines? Had various governors not followed his lead in pandering to the base? The GOP pols, the voters, and the RW media form a positive feedback loop, each driving the other two further into the ozone. Where is the start of a loop?

    And Marked, do you really think this has anything to do with GOP pols “core belief about what constitutes good governance” as opposed to their beliefs about what constitutes good politics? Do you think TFG had core beliefs at all, much less about good governance?

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  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    that are inherent to the broader politics of the current GOP

    This isn’t about the GOP. This is about the Trump states, I.e the states that have historically had Jim Crow governance. In those states politicians who strive for a ‘we are all in this together’ message are actively working against the interests of the power brokers, who need groups pitted against each other, angry and inciteable. So yes, MD Governor Larry Hogan, who has a lot of Democrats supporting him and a fair number of northern style Republicans, can do very well with a unity pitch. But someone like Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who I suspect is probably aligned with Hogan on this, cannot risk acting on those beliefs. They let her talk all she wants, but they don’t listen to her and her career would be over if she acted on her beliefs through mandates or the like.

    In fact, Ivey is probably my best argument for how little influence a leader can have on this matter in a Trump state. She is vocal and firm and no-nonsense and relentless in her message – and it has not made one iota of difference. Alabama has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country. Only three states are worse. MAryland is 7th highest. And MD saw an uptick in vaccination rate of 37% last week, while Alabama only saw an 8% increase. In other words, they are continuing to fall behind.

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    @Stormy Dragon:

    I suppose geographical isolation helps, but look at other island nations like the UK, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Japan. In a time of global trade and air travel, isolation takes a different meaning.

    It matters more how the pandemic was handled, what policies were implemented, and so on.

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  15. JohnMcC says:

    Confession: When I saw the headline Alabama v Australia my first thought was of Nick Sabin furiously studying the rulebook of Aussie-Rules Football.

    Thanks for that moment.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08:

    do you really think this has anything to do with GOP pols “core belief about what constitutes good governance” as opposed to their beliefs about what constitutes good politics?

    The Pols? Yeah, the Pols are driven primarily by their desire to stay in office. That goes almost without stating. It’s only remarkable when a politician rises above that. But that’s my point. Positing selfless politicians willing to fly in the face of what their base constituents and patrons want is little more than a theoretical exercise. It may happen occasionally but not often enough to matter.

    So yes, what the motivated voters and patrons want their government to do is vastly more important here than what their politicians say or do.

    Steven talks about how policies can make a difference. Absolutely. But politicians who would enact those policies in a Trump state (and by that I mean the Jim Crow governance states, not merely the ones who voted for him) are simply not going to get elected in that state. If it occasionally happens, they are not going to stay elected for long.

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  17. @MarkedMan:

    But politicians who would enact those policies in a Trump state

    My point has been that what makes anti-Covid mitigation into a Trump state thing is that Trump made it into a thing back in Jan/Feb/March of 2020 and so forth. (and RW media has helped solidify it).

    It did not automatically follow that another GOP president would have done that. (And this observation has nothing to do with assumptions about other GOP politicians being more common good oriented).

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  18. @MarkedMan: I was making a narrow point about Ivey. During the early parts of the pandemic, she ordered mask mandates and lockdowns and Kemp didn’t–and that made a difference at that point in time.

    She has always sent mixed signals on vaccines–and of late has been pretty much just like Kemp, because that is the party line.

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  19. @MarkedMan: Where is it that you think that Trump states got the idea that masks are dumb, the virus is a hoax, and vaccines are poison?

    (And why didn’t they think about all the other vaccines that they all took without complaining?)

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  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: The Pols? Yeah, the Pols are driven primarily by their desire to stay in office.

    Just out of curiosity, what if you substituted “FOX talking heads” for Pols? It seems to me they have a lot more sway over the masses than Ted Cruz ever dreamed of.

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  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @OzarkHillbilly: Ozark – I was composing this when I saw your comment about Fox – Great Minds Think Alike(TM)

    Where is it that you think that Trump states got the idea that masks are dumb, the virus is a hoax, and vaccines are poison?

    I think they got very little of it from their political leadership. As I said, I think the political leadership is responding to those putting them into power and not the other way around. At a guess I think Fox News is the primary mover here, followed by the decades (centuries?) old but mostly unorganized collection of cooks and wackos who see cabals and conspiracies behind everything from fluoridation to 5G to seatbelt laws, then followed by state actors (esp. Russia) who we know have pushed this stuff through social media. Where do the politicians fit in? I haven’t seen any evidence of a politician being able to move the needle in a Trump state through the bully pulpit. (Not seeing any evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but if it did happen I suspect it only made a difference to those outside the highly motivated voters who are enthusiastically embracing the crazies.) And the window of opportunity for politicians in those states to move the needle by policy has closed. Whatever freedom to act they had in the beginning is gone.

    Just to repeat myself, I think you are overestimating the influence that politicians have on this issue.

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  22. @MarkedMan: And I see nothing that would lead to this very specific partisan outcome as it pertains to vaccines and virus mitigation. (To take up your fluoride example: yes, there have been conspiracists on that topic, but people in Trump states still brush their teeth and go to the dentist).

    To repeat myself, there are some extremely clear behaviors/signals by Trump (and then amplified on Fox News and RW media in general, as I noted above) that moved us in this direction.

    So, I guess we are at the agree to disagree stage.

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  23. FWIW, I have included the media in the “elite cues” discussion for some time now. For example here and here.

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  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan:

    In reality, the core belief of the motivated majority is that the purpose of governance is to maintain the social hierarchy and keep people from getting above themselves.

    I may have become way too cynical. I’m beginning to think that that’s the purpose of the social contract itself in most places.

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  25. Kathy says:

    It’s hard to say how things would have developed had Mangolini not downplayed the pandemic and eschewed all prevention and mitigation measures.

    It is worth remembering he’s no leader and never has been. he kind of insinuates, demands, begs, and whines, and people build up structures, arguments, theories, etc. to satisfy him. Take the election he lost. The One-Term Loser whined it was rigged, but it was up to others to supply the non-existent proof for that claim. He didn’t come up with any of it, but picked them off the internet and whatever other media he follows.

    When he said the pandemic would be over by Spring or Summer, he wasn’t making a prediction or expressing a hope. he was instructing the virus what to do, or maybe ordering the CDC and NIH to have it stopped by then.

    Remember the daily briefings? Aside from suggesting poisoning people with bleach, you may recall the primary objective was to have a good show, not to inform the public. That’s why instead of observing social distancing, he had a packed stage: it looks better on TV.

    He didn’t come up with hydroxychloroquine. He just exaggerated some preliminary and very ambiguous results. He did downplay the seriousness of the disease, even after contracting it himself, and he did say he wouldn’t wear a mask.

    He didn’t rail against vaccines, but he didn’t promote them either. after the announcements of the high effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines, all Benito said was that they delayed announcing the results to hurt him in the election. And after that, he was too busy chasing his delusions in order to illegally stay in power, rather than promoting vaccinations.

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  26. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    So, I guess we are at the agree to disagree stage.

    I think we have been there for a while, and, FWIW I don’t think that’s a problem. I keep coming back to it because I think it is an interesting discussion, not the least because it has profound real consequences. If, as I say, the Republicans have irrevocably made themselves the party of Jim Crow governance and therefore wildly popular in Jim Crow states, then there really isn’t any point in trying to bring their better angels to the forefront – those better angels would be rejected by the party patrons and the motivated voters. But if you are right and the political leaders are playing a significant role in how people in their states react and behave, then a concerted effort to better-fy the existing angels could have a big positive effect.

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  27. @MarkedMan: Something to consider: the behavior in question is not limited to the Southeast. It is manifesting in other red states and counties.

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  28. @Kathy:

    Take the election he lost. The One-Term Loser whined it was rigged, but it was up to others to supply the non-existent proof for that claim. He didn’t come up with any of it, but picked them off the internet and whatever other media he follows.

    He provided the narrative, which is the key component (and it was believed by base voters who then put pressure on people like McCarthy). Granted, fraud fears had already been stoked, but nothing like what Trump did, going back to his statement in 2016 in the debates that he wouldn’t necessarily believe the results if he lost. He made the issue central to GOP politics in a way that it simply wasn’t before.

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  29. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I’m beginning to think that that’s the purpose of the social contract itself in most places.

    I’d argue that it has been the primary social contract throughout recorded history. It was only when the Enlightenment gave rise to a grand experiment and, much to everyone’s surprise, governance with a higher purpose led to more successful nation states. And the one nation explicitly founded on those ideals rather than an ethnic or geographical identity has had perhaps the most success of all. But like any step-change in governance throughout history, there is a constant effort to pull us back to the older, less successful, but simpler and more animalistic ways, which must be continuously fought.

    Sometimes I think there is no greater criminal in American history than Andrew Johnson. At long last the American South was being dragged into a more evolved stage when he basically tossed everything gained in a devastating civil war into the trash bin and turned his back as the South once again descended into horrific racial and social savagery. And then it happened again when the call for civil justice was becoming overwhelming in the 1950’s and those nameless and faceless Republican Party bosses created the Southern Strategy, and exchanged a blind eye towards racist and classist rule better suited to the 1550’s in exchange for Southern votes.

    We have a Republic, if we can keep it.

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  30. Kathy says:

    BTW, there’s an interesting píece at Skepchick by Rebecca Watson.

    Go past the “trust your immune system” parts, and you find this:

    Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital were studying T-cell responses in the blood of COVID patients and people who were vaccinated against COVID, and as a control to compare it to, they used the blood of people vaccinated against MMR and TDaP. T-cells have antigen receptors — little nubbins that stick out and do the job of attacking a virus in a cell. The researchers noticed that the receptors in the COVID batch were identical to the receptors in the MMR and TDaP batch, meaning that maybe those receptors can attack all of these viruses.

    There are several types of T cells, but the ones talked about most often are killer T cells. these destroy cells which have been infected or damaged. It’s not all the immune response, just as antibodies are not all the immune response, but an important part.

    If we think of antibodies as soldiers, as many analogies do, then the killer T cells are like artillery. they can blast an enemy redoubt filled with enemy combatants.

    Last year I got a flu shot for the first time. I wasn’t worried about flu, but I’d read the flu shot might offer protection against COVID. Now I know why (maybe).

    This is also an argument for taking every available vaccine, and all recommended boosters later in life, including the anual flu shot. You never know what other new pathogen they may unintentionally partially protect against later.

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  31. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: True. And there are pockets in every state, and even in the bluest counties of the bluest states there are fellow travelers. That’s why I say that people who actually lead a group, towards good or towards bad, are only a small percent, with the mushy majority just following along in whatever direction they happen to be pointing. The difference between Alabama and Massachusetts is probably a 10-15% shift in which factions have the upper hand.

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  32. EddieInCA says:

    Having been to both multiple times, I’ll take Sydney over Birmingham every day and twice on Sundays.

    The only thing Alabama and Australia have in common is both starting with the letter A.

    Forced to choose, I’d move to Australia before Alabama (No offense, Dr. Taylor).

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  33. Kathy says:

    @JohnMcC:

    I thought it was some outlandish lawsuit.

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  34. Moosebreath says:

    @EddieInCA:

    “The only thing Alabama and Australia have in common is both starting with the letter A.”

    And ending with an a.

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  35. EddieInCA says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Touche’

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  36. de stijl says:

    @Kathy:

    Is there consistent usage guidelines for “v.” versus “vs.”?

    I know for law it it always “v.”, but in sports contexts it almost “vs.”, at least in the US. I.e., Vikings vs. Packers.

    “v.” versus “vs.”, or vice versa?

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  37. Phill says:

    @Michael Cain: Beg to differ, the Australian Economy is doing very well with a recent record trade surplus despite the attention of China. We have a staff shortage here and in Queensland there is no lockdown and where I live in North Queensland you would not even know there has been any negative interruption of any kind, business is booming with record sales and residential development. The last two days the entire state has had zero community infections and previous to that very little. Some of the southern states have had a recent bad run but seem to be getting on top of it. A little bit of cooperation between the population has not hurt anyone, do not believe what you are fed by the media which often gives a false perception of the actual situation. I believe we have just knuckled down and are doing our best to come out the other side. In todays world, Island Nations are only by definition but definitely have an impact on the management of this crisis.

    Its not to say things will not take a turn for the worse at some stage and I do feel for all the people who have suffered during this crisis.

    By the way i love Alabama and all the other states I have had the privilege to visit in the US and I am looking forward to the day when I can visit again.

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  38. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    I think it’s like the difference in the word “defense” in “Dept. of Defense,” and “Top NFL defense.”

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  39. Ken_L says:

    @Michael Cain: The unemployment rate in Australia was 4.5% in August. It’s a mistake to think the whole country’s in lockdown; Melbourne has had a bad run but much of the rest of the country is carrying on more or less normally. Apart from checking in with a cell phone app when I visit a business, I don’t do anything I wasn’t doing in 2019. I have a mask in the car, just in case, but I’ve not had to wear it even once.

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