A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 American adults conducted in April found that 53 percent of Republicans were willing to take anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, while only 18 percent of Democrats were willing to try it. The utter arbitrariness of how public opinion on scientific questions has fractured along partisan divides reveals something rotten at the core of the national conversation.
No one is surprised to see political polarization around issues of taxation, immigration, welfare or military spending. But it has been remarkable to see such deep partisan divides about basic medical science. And as has become very clear this year, it is especially dangerous during a global pandemic. In 2019, you might have predicted that in some future disease outbreak, liberals would favor an expanded federal role in health care while conservatives would oppose government restrictions on business activity. But could you have anticipated that Democrats would champion masks and Republicans would endorse hydrocholorquine, rather than vice versa? The utter arbitrariness of how public opinion on scientific questions has fractured along partisan divides reveals something rotten at the core of the national conversation.
So is hydroxychloroquine a miracle drug, or is it worthless snake oil? Researchers have tried hard to demonstrate its value, but the largest and best-designed trials have repeatedly failed to show benefits. Still, so many studies have been published with such variable results that both sides of the political aisle can claim they have science on their side. And therein lies the problem.
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