But, at least on the front end of this crisis, Americans weren’t deciding what to do based on politics. Americans living in red states appear to have taken the crisis plenty seriously; data shows that residents there were staying home well before their governors issued stay-at-home orders.
Cuebiq, a private data company, assessed the movement of people via GPS-enabled mobile devices across the U.S.1 If you look at movement data in a cross-section of states President Trump won in the southeast in 2016 — Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky — 23 percent of people were staying home on average during the first week of March. That proportion jumped to 47 percent a month later across these six states.
If defying social distancing orders were really a political statement, you’d think that the southeast would be a hotbed for dissent. Yet people in the six states we examined changed their behavior around mid-March, before the states’ official stay-at-home orders. In fact, about 90 percent of the total change between early March and mid-April had occurred in the week before the stay-at-home orders were passed in each state.