Viewing civil society through the distorting lenses of our polarized and nationalized politics, and via media that are part of the fray, yields a bleak perspective. These lenses emphasize conflict and suggest what happens in Washington and on Twitter is more important than what happens in the places where we actually live. What if we look at civil society, and the observable patterns of association and solidarity within it, straight on?
For starters, we would see that the death toll, while awful at 100,000 and counting, is far fewer than the 2 million projected by early models. Why? Americans have followed the social distancing guidelines at much higher rates than expected. We succeeded in flattening the curve. CDC Director Robert Redfield noted in an interview last month that while baseline estimates expected 50% of Americans to observe the guidelines, “compliance to the message has been in excess of 90%.”
We would also see Americans of all political stripes changing their habits to comply with public health guidance. Survey data from the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group shows that while Democrats and Republicans differ a bit, they are not deeply divided on washing their hands more often (92% vs. 90%), wearing a mask (89% vs. 81%), or staying home (82% vs. 74%) in response to COVID-19.