A new Axios-Ipsos poll finds that a plurality of Republicans regard fentanyl and opioids as the biggest threat to public health, while Democrats are most likely to say guns. Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei tweeted that it was “wild” that conservatives were under this impression. After some blowback, VandeHei clarified the tweet, and claimed what he meant was that the political divide was “wild.” It is, but not for the reasons he thinks.
According to the CDC, an estimated 106,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2022. And likely around 67 percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl — which, if I punched in the number correctly, adds up to around 71,000 deaths.
In 2022, around 44,000 Americans died from gun-related deaths. According to the CDC, over half of gun deaths are attributable to suicide, which points to a need for better mental health and community involvement than any useless gun legislation. Around 20,000 people died from guns not used in suicides. This includes hundreds of accidents (which is another reason pollsters like to ask about “gun access”).
So, in other words, around five times as many people have died in drug overdoses in recent years than were killed by gun crime. And even if we counted all 44,000 gun-related deaths as having the same root cause, more than twice as many people died from drug overdoses. It’s wild that so many liberals aren’t aware of this reality.
And the idea that this is a Red State-Blue State perception problem, as the pollster Cliff Young claims, doesn’t really pan out. Yes, the states with the highest per capita drug overdoses include West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Kentucky, but also New Mexico, Maine, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. New York and Colorado have higher death rates than Texas and Alabama.
It’s also no surprise that the media’s morbid, ideologically motivated hyperfocus on gun crimes; their conflation of suicides, accidents, and criminal homicides; and their politicizing of every shooting have programmed science-loving Democrats to tend to overestimate the dangers of guns. If more voters knew that fentanyl was now more dangerous in the hands of Americans than guns, would our national debate look the same? Who knows.
Partisan media generally sees everything through its own moral and ideological prism, and when the numbers don’t fit they try and bend the narrative to make it work. It’s reminiscent of how the media’s coverage of every natural disaster as a unique occurrence convinces people that the Earth is on its last days, or how the endless hand-wringing over “inequality” creates the impression that America is awash in poverty.
In the same Axios poll story we’re told, “Nearly half of Americans — 47% — say insurers should cover transgender-related medical care. That’s a deeply partisan issue: 77% of Democrats favor it; just 16% of Republicans do.” Why isn’t the takeaway that 52 percent of Americans, notwithstanding the endless efforts to normalize transgenderism, still oppose insurers covering related medical procedures? Of those polled, 33 percent were “strongly” against it — which is considerably higher than the 21 percent that strongly support it. Of course, the question itself is misleading. What would the poll look like if you asked Americans whether the state should “mandate” that insurers pay for drugs and cosmetic surgeries for people with “gender dysphoria,” including children? I imagine, very different.
Anyway, none of this means that the issues of gun violence and overdoses are not important, or that different people don’t face different threats to their health. It’s probably the case, as well, that most people polled are talking about issues they see as preventable. Only 9 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans in the Axios poll, for instance, say cancer is our greatest health threat to Americans. Meanwhile, cancer claims more than 600,000 American lives every year — or 30 times more than gun homicides. A person is more likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, an accident, diabetes, the flu, kidney disease, septicemia, or chronic liver disease, among many other deadly things, than by a gun.
But any way you slice the numbers, it is Republicans who have a better grasp of the “greatest” threat to public health. And it isn’t surprising.