As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, it not only emerged as a profound public health crisis but also triggered a cascade of disruptions across the globe, affecting millions of lives and altering the fabric of societies forever. Beyond the immediate health implications, the pandemic magnified existing challenges, including supply chain disruptions, economic instability, and workforce imbalances. The United States, in particular, presented a unique backdrop with its state-based approach to pandemic management, creating a mosaic of strategies that reflected the nation’s diverse demographic and sociopolitical landscape. As the world grappled with containing the virus, the United States’ varied approach provided valuable insights into the complexities of managing a health crisis in a politically divided landscape.

An insightful exploration into the political dimensions of the COVID-19 response across the United States, a team of researchers from the University of North Florida led by Dr. Dominik Güss, and including Lauren Boyd, Kelly Perniciaro, Joseph Free, Danielle Free, and Dr. Teresa Tuason, have illuminated the stark differences in strategies and outcomes between states with varying political majorities. Their study, published in Health Policy OPEN, meticulously analyzes the interplay between state policies, vaccination rates, and COVID-19 death rates, shedding light on how political affiliations have shaped the pandemic’s impact.

Dr. Güss and his team initiated a comprehensive analysis, collecting extensive data across all fifty states. They conscientiously categorized states into red or blue based on their political leadership then compared COVID-19 mitigation measures, vaccination rates, and death rates. Dr. Güss explains, “Our findings indicate significant differences in COVID-19 related policies and outcomes between red and blue states,” highlighting the significant impact political decisions have had on public health during the pandemic.

To dissect these complexities, the research team delved deeply into the amassed information. With a keen eye for detail, they gathered a wide array of data, ranging from bio-demographic to socio-political and behavioral mitigation variables. “We used Cluster Analysis to see if variables such as COVID-19 cases and deaths, biological, social, demographic, and mitigation strategies would create meaningful, naturally occurring clusters,” Dr. Güss details, his voice reflecting the commitment and curiosity driving their inquiry. This method enabled the team to identify patterns and groupings among states based on their pandemic responses, a testament to their collaborative effort and shared quest for understanding.

Further delving into the data with regression models, the researchers aimed to understand the nuanced effects of various factors on COVID-19 death rates. “We fit a series of regression models to examine the impact of political/behavioral mitigation measures, demographics, and biological factors on the pandemic outcomes,” Dr. Güss elaborates. This approach allowed them to capture the intricate dynamics at play, revealing a clear correlation between state policies, vaccination efforts, and pandemic outcomes.

The study’s findings underscore the profound influence of political leanings on public health strategies and outcomes. States characterized by more proactive mitigation measures and higher vaccination efforts notably achieved better health outcomes compared to their counterparts. This contrast highlights the critical role of policy decisions in combating public health crises.

“The politicization of COVID-19 mitigation efforts has tangibly impacted the pandemic’s death toll across the United States,” Dr. Güss concludes, advocating for a more unified and less politicized approach to managing public health crises in the future. Concluding, the research affirms the significant impact of political orientations on the execution and effectiveness of COVID-19 mitigation strategies. It emphasizes the need for collective action and uniform policies that transcend political divisions to effectively combat such a global health crisis. The evidence from this analysis advocates for a harmonized approach towards pandemic management, stressing the importance of unity in times of public health emergencies. This approach should extend beyond the borders of political inclinations, focusing instead on what is protective of the people’s greater good and welfare.


Dr. Dominik Güss, Lauren Boyd, Kelly Perniciaro, Joseph Free, Danielle Free, Dr. Teresa Tuason, “The politics of COVID-19: Differences between U.S. red and blue states in COVID-19 regulations and deaths,” Health Policy OPEN, 2023.



C. Dominik Güss received his PhD in Psychology from the University of Bamberg in Germany. He is currently a Distinguished Professor and Presidential Professor at the University of North Florida. His research interests include the influence of culture on higher-order cognition, such as in dynamic decision-making and creativity, and coping with COVID-19. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and a Marie-Curie IIF Fellowship of the European Commission. He has published over 70 articles and book chapters and is on the editorial board of several journals.

Lauren Boyd, MSc, recently completed her Master’s degree at the University of North Florida and now works as a psychometrist. Her research background includes investigating behavioral influences on COVID-19 outcomes, ethology, and developing psychometric tools for assessing Developmental Coordination Disorder. Currently, her focus is on integrating autistic stakeholders into research and studying assent behaviors in non-verbal populations.

Kelly Perniciaro, M.S., holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Florida. She currently works with adolescents in community mental health. Her research explores psychological well-being and body dissatisfaction.

Joseph Free, M.Sc, is an applied statistician and data scientist with experience in the medical device industry. He specializes in statistical programming, automation, and response surface methodology. He is a member of the American Statistical Society (ASA).

Danielle C. Free, M.S.-CMHC, M.S.-P.P., is currently a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in private practice specializing in somatic psychology and contemplative neuroscience approaches.  She is a former researcher associated with University of North Florida and a co-creator of 2022 IPEC/COF Award-winning clinical training program OspreyPERCH.

­Dr. Tes Tuason is Professor and Program Director of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at the University of North Florida, and is a Licensed Psychologist. Tes was born and raised in the Philippines, where she learned resilience of spirit, generosity of heart, and using one’s personal power for transformative teaching and research. She is currently a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Awardee. Tes has received several awards, such as the Outstanding International Leadership Award, the Outstanding Faculty Scholarship Award, and two Outstanding Graduate Teaching Awards at UNF.

Her research interests have focused on: a) economic inequality b) minority identity formation as it relates to counseling, c) family, child, and adolescent issues utilizing systems perspectives, and d) the impact of COVID on psychological well-being across cultures. She has over 50 publications, over a 100 conference presentations, and has received two UNF Foundation board grants and the Spiritual Competency in Mental Health grant from the John Templeton Foundation thru the University of South Alabama.