In my last couple of TIGC posts, I’ve reported that Covid-19 case and death rates are now higher in counties that sided with Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, over his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election.
That resulted in a handful of unkind comments from readers who apparently felt it was impolite to apply such a political lens to Covid-19 data, so I decided to take an entirely apolitical swing at the numbers.
If anything, the results are even more striking. Where coping with Covid-19 is concerned, size does seem to matter: the bigger the better.
For this analysis, I’ve divided the state’s 159 counties into six population groupings — more than a half-million people (four counties); between 200,000 and 500,000 (seven counties); between 100,000 and 200,000 (14); between 60,000 and 100,000 (14); between 30,000 and 60,000 (21), and less than 30,000 (99). Then I pulled today’s county-specific Covid-19 data from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) website and sorted it into the appropriate buckets.
The truth is, I’ve probably put an unnecessarily fine point on the population groupings. There’s not a great deal of difference in the results for the three largest groups of counties — in other words, counties with populations of 100,000 or more.
As the popuation groupings get smaller, though, significant differences do emerge. Taking the worst beating, collectively, are the 99 counties with populations of fewer than 30,000 people. That group of counties had the highest Covid-19 case rates and far and away the highest Covid-19 death rates, as this table shows.
The big takeaway from this is that the 99 smallest counties have a combined Covid-19 death rate that is more than double that of the four largest counties — 102 deaths per 100,000 people in the under-30,000 counties versus 47.6 deaths per 100,000 in the four largest counties.
Indeed, as the population grouping gets smaller, the death rate gets higher — and the same generally holds true for case rates as well.
I should probably emphasize that this analysis is based on a single day’s data — today’s — and that there can be some day-to-day fluctuations. I haven’t had time to string together a long-term day-over-day analysis, but I’ve done enough spot-checking of recent data to say that today’s data isn’t a fluke or an anomaly, it’s part of a trend.
Here’s a little breaking news on the coronavirus front: The Covid-19 death rate is now higher, collectively, in the Georgia counties that voted for Governor Brian Kemp in 2018 than in those that went for his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams. What’s more, the difference in the rate of confirmed cases is narrowing dramatically.
This is a little bit of a surprise. Early on, the virus hit densely-populated urban Democratic precincts much harder than remote, sparsely-populated Republican communities, and there was a good bit of credible speculation that the gap between the two might never fully close.
The New York Times took a deep dive into national data in late May and posited that while case and death rates were rising in conservative areas, it wasn’t “on a scale that would close the gap in the virus’s impact on red and blue counties.”
That’s no longer true in Georgia. The Covid-19 death rate in the 130 mostly rural counties carried by Kemp in 2018 squeaked past that of the 29 largely urban counties that went for Abrams on August 25th.
The Kemp and Abrams death rate trend lines converged through the middle part of August. They were nearly identical by August 24th — 47.52 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 47.43 in the Kemp counties. The next day, the lines crossed — 48.37 deaths per 100,000 people in the Abrams counties versus 48.52 in the Kemp counties — and they’ve been separating, fairly rapidly, ever since, as the graph above shows.
The Abrams counties have so far suffered more overall deaths than the Kemp counties: 3,095 out of population of 5.67 million versus 2,833 out of a population of 4.95 million. But even that may be changing. Since the Kemp and Abrams death rate trendlines crossed on August 25th, there have been 785 Covid-19 deaths in Georgia. Of those, 353 occurred in the Abrams counties while 432 took place in Kemp country.
While the Abrams counties are still reporting higher rates of confirmed Covid-19 cases than the Kemp counties, those trend lines are also converging. On August 25th — the day the death rate trend lines crossed — the 29 Abrams counties had a combined confirmed case rate of 2316.7 cases per 100,000 while the combined case rate for the 130 Kemp counties was 2178.6, a difference of 6.3 percent. By September 8th, the difference was down to 1.9 percent — 2529.9 cases per 100,000 people for the Abrams counties versus 2483.2 for the Kemp counties.
Put another way, during that August 25-September 8 period, the Abrams counties reported a total of 12,089 new confirmed Covid-19 cases while the Kemp counties reported 15,069 new cases.
These trends can, of course, shift. The recent death and case rate trends appear to have been driven largely by the virus’s Sherman-like march across east-central and southeast Georgia, which is heavily rural and went overwhelmingly for Kemp. All it would take to alter — indeed, reverse — these patterns would be a major outbreak in one or more of the major urban counties.
Still, the current data and trends would appear to put to rest the early thinking that the virus would be satisfied with feasting on Democrats in densely-populated urban areas. It took it a while, but it finally found its way to virtually every corner of the state’s rural areas, which have older, less healthy populations and frailer healthcare delivery systems. Those Republican hunting grounds now appear to be just as fruitful for Covid-19 as the big Democratic cities.
A young up-and-comer in the Georgia Republican Party made headlines recently when he proclaimed that Republicans have a “fertility advantage” and suggested that a core GOP strategy going forward would be, basically, to out-breed the Democrats.
Brant Frost V, who is the second vice chair of the state GOP, told a recent meeting of Oconee County Republicans:
“Christian and conservative women have a 35 percent fertility advantage over Democrat women. And the more conservative a woman is, the more likely she is to be married and have lots of kids – three, four, five, six kids. And the more liberal and leftist a woman is, the less likely she is to even be married and have any children at all …”
I’m not making this up. You can watch the video here. Frost begins his remarks about an hour and seven minutes into the meeting.
As political Hail Marys go, you’ve got to give Frost credit for audacity. I’m not sure it’ll work politically, but it’s bound to have a major impact on the Christian conservative singles-bar scene. (“Hey, Baby, you wanna help save America from socialism?”)
But here’s the thing: Frost has absolutely zeroed in on the Republicans’ political problem.
According to data recently posted by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), 79 of Georgia’s 159 counties had more deaths than births in 2018.
That’s actually news: it’s a record high, and it extends an alarming trend that started about a decade ago. DPH’s public databases of births and deaths go back to 1994, and for about the first 15 years the number of counties reporting more deaths than births floated between about 10 and 20. But that changed starting in 2010, as this graph shows.
These numbers are politically relevant to Frost’s grand strategy for a couple of reasons. First, 78 of the 79 counties are rural; the only one that’s not is Fayette County, long recognized as a popular redoubt for retirees well past child-bearing age. It’s also dependably Republican.
Second, Georgia’s rural regions have voted overwhelmingly Republican in the recent past. Georgia’s current Republican governor, Brian Kemp, owes his narrow election over Democrat Stacey Abrams last year to extraordinarily high turnout and huge margins in rural Georgia.
And the importance of Frost’s vision – for conservative women to have “three, four, five, six” babies each – becomes even clearer when you drill down into the data and break it down by race. Whites voted three-to-one for Kemp while blacks went more than nine-to-one for Abrams, according to an election-season poll of Georgia voters.
The number of counties reporting more white deaths than births was 104. Eighty-four of those counties voted for Kemp.
These maps should leave little doubt about the vital importance of Frost’s strategy. The first one spotlights the counties that had more white deaths than births in red; the second one shows the counties that went Republican in the 2018 gubernatorial in red and the ones that voted Democratic in blue. It’s obviously not a perfect match, but it’s enough of an overlap that it ought to give your average GOP strategist a little heartburn.
Further, 57 of Kemp’s counties lost population between 2012 and 2017, according to Census Bureau estimates, and most of the Kemp counties that grew did so at rates that lagged the state average and, critically, traditionally Democratic urban areas.
That’s not the end of Frost’s political math problems. At this point, there’s a fair body of polling data to suggest that Millennials lean decidedly toward the Democratic Party. Last year Pew Research put the percentage of Millennials who consider themselves “consistently” or “mostly” conservative at 12 percent versus 57 percent who put themselves in a liberal category; the remainder put themselves in a “mixed” category.
The picture may be a little better for conservatives among Millennials who are actually registered to vote: Pew put that split at 59-32 in favor of Team Blue. But it also found a gender divide that may impact the Frost strategy. Some 41 percent of Millennial males tilted Republican, while only 23 percent of Millennial females did so.
For the sake of what I know is a dubious illustration, let’s say that all the Millennial women in counties that went for Kemp are the type of good Christian conservative women Frost has in mind and that the Millennial women in the Abrams counties are all godless Commies.
As the actual math on this works out, the women in the Kemp counties already have a consistently higher birth rate than the ones in the Abrams county; in 2018, the Millennial birth rate in the Kemp counties was 79.8 births per 1,000 women versus 72.7 in the Abrams counties.
The problem is, the Kemp women are badly outnumbered.
In 2018, 647,492 Millennial women in the Kemp counties gave birth to 51,687 babies (who, in this scenario, will all grow up to be good Republican voters). The 886,215 Millennial women in the Abrams counties delivered 64,453 baby Democrats.
To close that gap of nearly 13,000, Millennial women in the Kemp counties will have to up their game; just matching the Democratic output would require them to raise their annual birth rate to just under 100 births per 1,000 women. This arithmetic is admittedly (shall we say) speculative, but it seems clear that the good Christian women in Frost’s political fantasies will have their work cut out for them.
Now, it turns out there may be a silver lining for Republicans in all this data. The same Pew research that found that conservatives had a surplus of men also found that liberals had more women and might not have enough men to go around. This creates an opportunity for those extra conservative males to try their luck with liberal women (friendly pro tip: leave the MAGA cap in the pick-up).
Of course, such a development might create an entirely new classification problem for the Department of Public Health. DPH keeps track of all the state’s births and deaths and classifies them in different ways – including ethnicity and race (white, black, multiracial). If a Republican cross-pollination initiative works, DPH might have to add a political classification – Republican, Democrat, or Multi-partisan.
Have a question or suggestion for TIGC? Email Charlie Hayslett at chayslett.gmail.com