Researchers Quantify the Role of the Pandemic in the 2020 U.S. Elections

In the media, a prevalent narrative is that Donald Trump lost the 2020 elections because of the way he handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Several researchers determined that Trump would have won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote, as he did in 2016, if the pandemic had not occurred or if it had been mitigated.

Interestingly, not all the evidence supports the thesis that the handling of the crisis hurt Trump’s re-election, and quantitative evidence to support this narrative is limited.

In a new paper, Quantifying the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, in the European Physical Journal, a team led by Maurizio Porfiri, Institute Professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, put forward a spatial, information-theoretic approach to critically examine the link between voting behavior and COVID-19 incidence in the 2020 presidential elections. While they concurred with prior research that there were correlations between the two factors, they found that such an association points in the opposite direction from the accepted narrative: in counties that experienced fewer COVID-19 cases, Trump lost more ground to Joe Biden.

“A tenable explanation of this observation is the different attitude of liberal and conservative voters toward the pandemic, which led to more COVID-19 spreading in counties with a larger share of Republican voters” said Porfiri.

Key to the analysis is a way of quantifying uncertainty in statistical models. By using a novel spatial data modeling approach, and computing conditional mutual information between two processes (a target process like voting behavior and a second process, in this case, COVID-19 incidence), Porfiri, et. al., were able to infer spatial (geographic) connections.

This approach enabled them to determine the influence that epidemiological and economic processes might have had on voting behavior, as well as the spatial interactions that encapsulate the social and political fabric of the country.

From the analysis of county-level data, the investigators, including Pietro de Lellis of the University of Naples Federico II and Manuel Ruiz Marín of the University of Cartagena, Spain, uncovered a robust association between voting behavior and prevalence of COVID-19 cases.

The researchers determined that COVID-19 cases were negatively associated with the variation in the total vote count, whereby a larger increase in participation was observed in counties that were less affected by the pandemic, and a smaller increase in those that suffered the most from COVID-19. When it comes to the difference in votes between the two parties, they found that Biden’s margin was higher in the counties that suffered the least from COVID-19. However, counties where Biden gained the largest margin were not identified by COVID-19 prevalence.

They also found that there were more likely to be large increases in the electoral participation and in Biden’s margin in counties that suffered more job losses; likewise, they found less participation and more support for Trump in counties that experienced smaller increases in unemployment rate.

“Our work demonstrates the value of spatial information-theoretic tools towards uncovering the mechanisms underlying government elections and, more generally, the socio-political fabric of a country. This is critical to support decision-making processes in urban sciences, in a context where our cities face dramatic changes due to environmental and sociotechnical stressors, such as climate change and social justice,” added De Lellis.

The research was partially supported by the National Science Foundation. It was also part of the collaborative activities carried out under the programs of the region of Murcia (Spain): “Groups of Excellence of the region of Murcia, the Fundaci ́on Seneca, Science and Technology Agency.” De Lellis was supported by the program “STAR 2018” of the University of Naples Federico II and Compagnia di San Paolo, Istituto Bancodi Napoli — Fondazione, project ACROSS. M. Ruiz Mar ́was supported by Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovaci ́on y Universidades.

The Presidential Debate, the Supreme Court, and What it Means for the Affordable Care Act

On October 7th, 2020, President Donald Trump went head to head against former Vice President Joe Biden, marking the beginning of the election season and the first debate of 2020. Amongst ongoing chaos, with COVID-19 and racial unrest, this election could make or break the season finale of a monumental year. During the debate, candidates discussed many of the key topics that are at stake during this election, including the open seat in the Supreme Court.

Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist icon who has paved the way for women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community since 1993, the Court requires a new member, and whether that takes place before or after this upcoming Presidential Election is up for debate. RBG’s final statement was delivered publicly, days before her passing, “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Breakdown of the Candidate’s Segments:

After nominating Amy Coney Barrett the weekend prior to the debate President Trump vouched for her on stage, stating, “I will tell you very simply; we won the election. Elections have consequences – we have the Senate, the White House, and we have a phenomenal nominee respected by all.” Trump asserted that his remaining months in the White House would allow him to appoint Associate Justice Barrett to the empty Supreme Court seat. In his short response, President Trump expressed that her position and academic background qualified her for the seat, and reasoned that if it were up to the Democratic party, they, too, would push to elect someone of their choice for the empty seat.

Vice President Joe Biden argued that Trump’s stance on this matter is unconstitutional, stating that the “American people have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is. And that say occurs when they vote for United State Senators and for the President of the United States; they are not going to get that option now. The election has already started.  Tens of thousands have already voted and the thing that should happen- is that we wait. We wait and see what this outcome is.”  Vice President Biden expressed his fear that that the nominee for the Supreme Court, who has written against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and deemed it unconstitutional, would place the ACA in jeopardy. He raised concerns about the impact this will have on women’s rights, those with pre-existing health conditions, and the overall reasonableness of healthcare expenses. Biden summarized his thoughts, stating that this matter should be decided on after the election in February of 2021.

Fact-Checking: What is True About Their Statements?

According to the Chicago Tribune, Amy Coney Barrett has not, as Biden claimed, stated that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Barrett has been vocal about her view of the ACA and the laws that upheld it in 2012, but she has not spoken out about whether or not is it constitutionally right within the law.

CNN reported Biden’s concerns about eliminating the ACA would leave approximately 20 million people from having access to affordable health insurance are true. While this appears to be true, and even more so during a global pandemic, the effect of various events of 2020 may have inflated this number. According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute in Washington, which calculated and measured the impact that changing the policy would have on Americans, 20 million people would be without insurance but CNBC reported in August that “up to 12 million Americans may have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic.”

A final point was brought by President Trump about his Supreme Court Nominee, stating that “some of her biggest endorsers are very liberal people.” For example, Barrett has been endorsed by Noah Feldman, a liberal law professor at Harvard as well as some support from former professors of Notre Dame. However, according to Inside Highered, these endorsements sparked a petition from faculty stating, “Many members of the faculty are strongly opposed to Amy Barrett’s nomination,” the letter said. “Many of us do not know her, but she seems to be a kind, decent, and intelligent person. However, we are strongly opposed to her views — as reflected in her writings, opinions, and dissents,” the letter said.

How Will This Impact Americans?

The Supreme Court will eventually be deciding on matters as impactful as the 1973 Roe V Wade decision, which granted women legal access to abortions. Not only does the future of the ACA lie in the hands of the Supreme Court, so do basic civil and human rights. If the ACA overturned, millions of Americans will be left abandoned in the middle of a pandemic with no replacement plan in place. The remaining options of either buying into another insurer with unreasonably heightened prices, or risking getting sick with the coronavirus with little to no support, would no doubt have massive negative impacts on Americans.

Overturning the ACA would also leave the elderly to struggle to pay for their prescriptions, as the ACA currently covers much of the expenses for seniors’ medications. This would also leave women at risk of experiencing gender-based discrimination from insurers who would charge women more than men on insurance coverage. This could lessen women’s job outlooks because businesses with company-covered insurance would view women as more expensive.

On top of impacting various vulnerable populations, America’s current recession may also be worsened if ACA is done away with. Pre-existing health conditions would once again not be covered, and preventative care will need to be paid out of pocket. Among the pandemic, Black, Latinx, and Native Americans are struggling more than ever with the systemic racism that hinders them from receiving care. If ACA is thrown out, this would leave people of color open for further discrimination by insurance companies to higher rates or denial of coverage.  

The Supreme Court has recently made decisions on sex-based discrimination, religious discrimination, and immigration law. With justices’ life-long terms, this could impact the American people for decades. The current Supreme Court balance has five conservative justices and three liberals, so this next nominee could sway the Supreme Court vote to either side, and that will ultimately impact what is brought to the Supreme Court. With all of this in mind, it is imperative that Americans utilize their right to vote during the election.

Amy Comey Barrett was confirmed by the Senate on October 26th, and the Supreme Court will be voting on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act on November 10th, 2020.

Remember the First Presidential Debate – Where Our Presidential Candidates Stand

The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden took place on September 29, 2020. The 90-minute debate featured a series of bitter exchanges and name-calling as Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox struggled to facilitate the conversation. Wallace repeatedly admonished the president for disregarding debate rules and interrupting Biden’s speaking time. A “will you shut up, man…It’s hard to get any word in with this clown” from Biden serves as a recap of how the night went and resonates with many of the American people.

Among the six debate topics, the issue of race and violence in our cities was prompted followed by a question to gauge each candidate’s ability to combat race issues. In response, Trump claimed that he was better suited than Biden to eliminate these issues and is “doing better than any Republican has done in a long time” – an opinion that is unpopular among Black and Brown voters. The President also referenced the 1994 Crime Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that reinforced punitive responses to deter crime and incentivized states to build more prisons. In an effort to weaken Biden’s arguments, Trump accused Biden of referring to Black people as superpredators. Biden refuted Trump’s accusations with the statement “I did not say that. I’ve never said that.”

Fact- Check: Did Biden Call Black People Superpredators?

According to NBC News, Trump’s accusation was “mostly false.” In fact, it was Hillary Clinton, the former United States Secretary of State, who used the term in support of the 1994 Crime Bill. However, Biden, a co-author of the law, did warn of “predators” in a 1993 floor speech he delivered in support of the bill. According to Biden’s speech in 1993, predators were “beyond the pale” and must be sanctioned away from the rest of society because the criminal legal system does not know how to rehabilitate them. Since then, Biden has publicly apologized for his past stance on criminal legal issues and admitted that the decisions made in that era “trapped an entire generation.”

The term “superpredator” was coined in 1996 by John Dilulio, a Princeton professor who predicted that a wave of ruthless, violent young offenders was on the horizon. According to Dilulio’s theory, these young people were so impulsive that they could engage in violent crimes without hesitation or remorse. A 1997 report published by the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice found that juvenile courts in the United States processed more than 1.7 million delinquency cases in 1995, a 7-percent increase over the 1994 caseload and a 45-percent increase over the number of caseloads handled in 1986. Compounding an influx of juvenile proceedings was significant research suggesting a strong relationship between childhood adversity and involvement with the juvenile or adult criminal systems. Eventually, public officials supported Dilulio’s theory, which resulted in tough-on-crime policies for young and adult offenders across the country. 

While it is true that incarceration rates were already high by 1994, the passage of the federal crime bill disproportionately impacted communities of color. The bill exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities in state prisons by deploying more police into neighborhoods of color. Considered “one of the cornerstone statutes that accelerated mass incarceration,” a combination of more prisons, racial profiling, and mandatory minimum sentencing funneled a generation of Black and Brown people into the juvenile and criminal legal system. Today, The United States and federal prison population has increased since 1994 and widened racial disparities. According to a 2020 data analysis, more than 60% of people in prison today are people of color and Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, with Hispanic men being 2.7 times as likely. Consistent with both candidates’ remarks, the Black and Brown community continues to bear the harshest brunt of discriminatory policies and practices. 

Fight the Fake: The Importance of Fact-Checking and How to Recognize A False Claim

In a world with unlimited access to social media and the internet, fact-checking is conducive to making informed voting decisions. Making informed voting decisions means that an individual is knowledgeable about the topics and positions of candidates who are running for office. Additionally, it means that an individual is able to make their own decisions without influence from outside factors, including misinformation found online. Acknowledging that fact-checking is not always an easy task, especially with constant, savvy efforts against it and persuasive content, here are five ways to combat misinformation and cast informed votes:

  • Detect whether the statement is a claim of fact.
    • When a statement that you heard jumps out to you, ask yourself if it is a claim of fact. It’s important to note that opinion, rhetoric, and satire have a place in public debate. Although you can not fact-check opinion, fact-checkable claims can be easily spotted. Sometimes, these claims feature tangible nouns (housing or insurance), numbers, and comparisons (“the economy is doing better under my administration”), and they also contain statements about what a candidate has achieved.
  • Think about the context of the claim.
    • It may be helpful to ask yourself what the claim leaves out. When a candidate claims to have influenced massive economic growth, for example, it’s important to look into the status of the economy before the candidate was elected into office.
  • Find reliable sources to test the validity of the claim.
    • Depending on the claim you are fact-checking, the best sources may be government-run websites and records, peer-reviewed articles with large sample sizes, or well-known organizations with credibility such as The Commission on Presidential Debates.
  • Is the candidate claiming credit that is not due?
    • Another misleading trick is to claim credit for something that was the result of another elected official’s agenda. If an elected official claims that they combated systemic issues while in office, it’s worthwhile to dig deeper to see who was responsible for the specific changes they are referring to. 
  • Accept that you’ll have critics.
    • Lastly, it’s important to recognize that you will have critics. As you know, everyone is entitled to their opinion even if it is different than your own. However, that does not mean you have to conform- you have the autonomy to make decisions based on your lived experiences. 

All in all, ignore the Twitter and Facebook trolls and make informed decisions for you and your loved ones. Despite how advanced and easily accessible information is on TV, social media, and the internet, it is ultimately up to you to remain vigilant and seek the truth.

Americans are Voting Early and Making Plans to Ensure Their Vote Counts

The first of three presidential debates touched on many hot topics, with President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Joe Biden having an impassioned debate over the integrity of the 2020 election. While President Trump has been very vocal in the past about voter fraud, he claimed that mail-in voting fraud is a particular concern this year. In addition to voter fraud, Trump also claimed that mail-in ballots are being thrown out and that the number of mail-in ballots will overload the systems currently in place for receiving and counting votes.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 75% of voters have the ability to vote by mail for the upcoming general election. During the debate, as well as on twitter, Trump said that there are 80 million mail-in ballots being sent to people who did not request them and declared it “unfair” and “total fraud.” While a few states do automatically send out mail-in ballots to voters, there is no way that this would add up to the proclaimed 80 million ballots. The accusation of fraud by mail-in has been shown to be unfounded, and The Brennan Center for Justice has put together a compilation of independent and government research that shows that voter fraud is rare. How rare? Between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of votes in various past elections. In fact, from 2000 to 2012, there were only 2,068 cases of voter fraud, with only 24% of those being related to mail-in ballots. Despite his concerns, Trump has cast his vote by mail-in ballot in the past.

During the debate over the integrity of this year’s election, presidential candidate Joe Biden cited the FBI, whose director has said that there has been no evidence of any type of coordinated voter fraud. Biden said that mail-in ballots are necessary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirmed the idea that they are safe and secure. Biden noted that people can still vote in person, and urged the people watching to make sure they do vote this year. He also brought up the fact that the military has been using mail-in ballots since the Civil War.

While mail-in voting has had a strong and lengthy history in the U.S. for military members, the process works a bit differently for the general population. All states routinely offer absentee ballots, often used by college students, military members, and others who are not able to visit their polling location on election day. Due to COVID-19, more than 30 states have allowed residents to request absentee mail-in ballots without a specific reason. There are also five states (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii) that have been regularly using all mail-in voting without issue.

This year, many people are not comfortable voting in person, with some studies showing that almost 50% of people are uncomfortable with the idea. This is to be expected due to the ongoing fluctuation of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. Another unique challenge that is impacting the voters of the US this year is the ongoing conflict between Trump and the USPS. Trump has admitted to blocking funding that the USPS needs to maintain its operations, and has mentioned “fraudulent” mail-in voting as part of his reasoning. People residing in states that are allowing absentee ballots due to COVID-19 are encouraged to request and return their mail-in ballots as early as they can.

On top of the barriers caused by Trump’s interference, many states have strict voter ID laws, registration rules, and few physical polling locations. Voter ID laws negatively impact already marginalized groups of people, including people of color, low-income individuals, and young people. Without an ID, you cannot vote, but many people do not have the time, resources, or funds to acquire a state-issued ID. In recent years, various southern states have closed a combined total of over 1,200 polling locations, further adding to the barriers citizens face when trying to cast their votes. The closed polling locations have predominantly impacted people of color and people living in low-income communities, which have seen the most polling location closures.

Mail-in voting can be beneficial for those who have seen their previous polling locations close, as well as people who may experience challenges voting in person. Although polling places are supposed to follow the guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), approximately 60% of polling places were inaccessible for people with various disabilities in past elections. People living with certain disabilities are also at higher risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. For these reasons, mail-in voting is an important tool that Americans living with disabilities need access to this year.

Mail-in ballots have been a part of voting in the U.S. since the 1800s, and they will continue to be an integral part of the election system for the foreseeable future. With more states moving towards all-mail voting systems, the evidence is clear – mail-in voting is safe and it works. Remember, over 30 states have allowed their residents to request absentee ballots without a reason, making it easier than ever to vote in the 2020 presidential election. You can visit vote.gov and select your state to find out how to register to vote and check your voter status.

Make sure you check out your state’s specific voting page for accurate information on voting by mail, as it varies from state to state. If you live in a state that is not allowing you to vote by mail in this election, this website can tell you if your state requires your employer to give you time off to go vote in person. To make sure you have all the resources to vote, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw created When We All Vote, which offers a Voter Resources Hub full of information specific to where you live. Knowledge is power, and this year, more than ever, it is important to know your voting rights and make sure your voice is heard in the 2020 election.

NASW Endorses Joe Biden for President

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) enthusiastically endorses Joe Biden for president in 2020. During his nearly 45-year career in public office, including as a U.S. Senator and Vice President, Mr. Biden has demonstrated a consistent commitment to advancing the mental health and social justice causes that are central to NASW’s mission.

Mr. Biden began his public service career as a county council member in New Castle, Del. He served in the United States Senate from 1973 to 2009 and as Vice President of the United States under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017.

While in the Senate, Mr. Biden supported the expansion of the state Children’s Health Insurance Program and much-needed improvements in mental health services for Veterans. He also played a key role in the passage of gun violence prevention legislation including the Brady background check bill and the subsequent ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. In addition, he wrote and spearheaded the original Violence Against Women Act.

As Vice President, Mr. Biden championed the Affordable Care Act and was a vocal supporter of marriage equality for LGBTQ individuals.

In his Build Back Better proposal, unveiled during his current campaign for president, Mr. Biden has articulated urgently needed plans to address simultaneous health, racial and economic crises that are besetting our nation.

“The 2020 election will be among the most consequential in American history,” said Angelo McClain, Chief Executive Officer of NASW. “Joe Biden brings the bold vision and extensive national and global leadership experience that will be imperative in propelling our country forward”.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, DC, is the largest membership organization of professional social workers. It promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its advocacy.

Celebrities Hacked: Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Beyonce and Jay-Z

by Deona Hooper, MSW

celebrity hacked

Reports have been exploding on the web about an alleged cyber scheme to expose and post sensitive financial data of high profile celebrities such as First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and up to 12 other celebrities.  TMZ did an exclusive on the celebrities hacked in this alleged plot to post their financial data on an undisclosed website. Initial reports states the data obtained by the hackers were retrieved from the same credit reporting agency where other companies obtain data to send out pre-approval offers. The data included information such as social security numbers, mortgage information, and out-dated credit data. If  high profile celebrities are at risk of identify theft, maybe now they will do something to help protect the rest of us mere mortals.

According to TMZ,

A website — we’re not disclosing the name — has posted social security numbers, mortgage amounts, credit card info, car loans, banking and other info of major celebs.  In addition to Beyonce and Jay-Z … the site has snagged financial dossiers of Kim Kardashian, Paris HiltonMel GibsonAshton KutcherJoe BidenRobert Mueller, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holderand LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.  Read more

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