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Southerners Share COVID-19 Experiences and Set Post-Pandemic Policy Priorities

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the South hard, both in terms of cases and economic repercussions. To understand the extent of its impact, Data for Progress, Southern Economic Advancement Project, and Groundwork conducted a joint survey to reflect the Southern experience and common priorities of voters as states move forward. 


The study found that voters in 12 Southern states broadly support investments in health care and community services. It also finds that the pandemic-related economic crisis has had a negative impact on workers and families throughout the South, illustrating how crucial these investments are to helping people recover from the pandemic and build healthier, more resilient communities. 

Who Lost Wages During the Pandemic?

In a survey, 22% of Southerners reported either lost wages or hours due to the pandemic. Across partisan lines, 22 percent of self-identified Democrats said they have experienced a loss of wages or hours, while 27 percent of self-identified Independents and 19 percent of self-identified Republicans said the same. People of color were hit especially hard – 44 percent of Hispanic voters and nearly a quarter of Black voters lost wages or hours compared to 20 percent of white voters.


Whose Debt Increased?

Similar to wage or hours losses, one out of every five Southern voters said they experienced an increase in debt during the pandemic. Twenty percent of Democratic and Republican voters said they have faced increased debt, while 26 percent of Independents said the same. In addition, 22 percent of Black and Hispanic voters and 21 percent of white voters experienced an increase in debt.

Did Stimulus Payments Help Southerners?

As a key feature of the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan’s pandemic relief, many Americans received multiple stimulus payments. The survey only polled people who had received a stimulus payment about whether it had a positive impact, negative impact, or no impact at all. Seventy-four percent of Southerners say stimulus payments had a positive impact; Eighty percent of Democrats, 72 percent of Independents, and 70 percent of Republicans reported that stimulus payments had a positive impact on their personal finances. This was particularly true for Black and Hispanic voters; stimulus payments had positive effects for 78 percent of Black voters and 81 percent of Hispanic voters. In comparison, 72 percent of white voters reported positive effects.

How Should Leadership Use Federal Relief Funds?

Seventy-one percent of Southern voters said they support investing federal relief funds in community programs and pandemic relief instead of cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy. The plan to use relief funds to invest in community services has strong support across partisan lines: 77 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Independents, and 67 percent of Republicans support investments in community services. To compare, less than 10 percent of Southern voters believe that pandemic relief funds should be used to cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Across race, 69 percent of Black voters, 67 percent of Hispanic voters, and 72 percent of White voters say relief funds should be invested in community services and pandemic relief programs. 

Should Southern States Expand Medicaid?

Overall, 66 percent of Southerners support Medicaid expansion and 18 percent oppose it. Support for Medicaid expansion extends across party lines – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all support this provision by margins of +74 points, +49 points, and +30 points, respectively. Similarly, Black, Hispanic, and white voters say the same by +59-point, +53-point, +44-point margins, respectively. There is also strong support for Medicaid expansion when breaking down the results by respondents living in states that have and have not expanded Medicaid.

As lawmakers in Congress weigh cuts to the Build Back Better agenda, these results indicate that there is broad support in the South for historic investments in health care and families. 

*Survey conducted by Data for Progress, Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP), and Groundwork in September 2021. Published in SEAP’s Voters Across the South Are Concerned About Climate Change, Support Robust Investments in Health Care and Community Services.

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