A recent online magazine article proposed a controversial idea: Those government and private officials who might have made serious errors during the COVID-19 pandemic should be granted “amnesty” for their mistakes. Will it fly? As the latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows, the answer is “not likely.”
The article in question, Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty, appeared in the Oct. 31 online edition of The Atlantic. Specifically, the article, written by Brown University economist Emily Oster (who herself was heavily criticized for supporting school reopenings during COVID) urged:
We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty. We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge.
But Americans mostly disagree with that idea, according to the latest national I&I/TIPP Poll, conducted online from a sampling of 1,359 adults from Nov. 2-4. The poll has a margin of error of +/-2.8 percentage points.
We asked: “Some say we should have ‘amnesty’ for those who made big mistakes during the COVID-19 pandemic. To what extent do you agree or disagree?”
Some 35% of all respondents said they either “agree strongly” (12%) or “agree somewhat” (23%), according to the poll.
But the “disagrees” were slightly larger, at 39%, with most saying they “disagree strongly” (21%), compared to those who said they “disagree somewhat” (18%). A significantly large 26% of all respondents said they were “not sure.”
Not surprisingly, there were once again sharp political and demographic cleavages evident in the poll’s responses.
The clearest difference arose between Democrats, Republicans and independents. By, 48% to 30%, Democrats favored the amnesty idea. Republicans and independents were almost exactly the opposite: Just 27% of Republicans and independents agreed that there should be a general amnesty, while 49% of GOP followers and 42% of independents disagreed.
Sorted by age, differences varied widely: Among the 18-24-year-olds, 47% favored amnesty. That number kicked up to 52% for those from 25-44. But it falls off sharply after that, with just 26% of the 45-64 cohort supporting amnesty, and even fewer — 17% — among those 65 and older.
Another big split came among men and women. Men slightly favored the idea by 41% to 39%, while women were more strongly against it, 30% saying they agree to 40% saying they didn’t.
Race was another point of difference: Just 27% of white respondents agreed with the amnesty idea, while twice that level — 54% — of blacks and Hispanics agreed. The comparable figures for disagreement were 45% for whites, but just 26% for blacks and Hispanics.
The big point from the data is that this is yet another major political and cultural split among Americans. Whether the amnesty idea gains any steam in Congress will depend on the final outcome of midterm congressional elections, still not fully counted.
Regardless, however, Americans have strong feelings about the two years of lockdowns, masking and other restrictions that came with fighting the COVID-19 bug.
Jeffrey Tucker, co-founder of the libertarian Brownstone Institute recently summed up the case for not giving amnesty:
(Thirty) months later, we are experiencing the longest period of declining real income since the end of World War II, a health crisis, an education crisis, an exploding national debt, 40-year high inflation, continued and seemingly random shortages, dysfunction in labor markets, a breakdown of international trade, a dramatic collapse in consumer confidence, and a dangerous level of political division.
Economist Robert G. Graboyes agrees, pushing in a Substack column for investigations into what happened and why: “Amnesty no. Truth and Reconciliation yes.” And numerous others, among them the American Council on Science and Health, agree.
However, the pro-amnesty side, as typified by Oster’s original controversial article, says it’s a waste of energy and divisive to turn the COVID response into another skirmish in our ongoing national culture wars.
“These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive,” Oster argued. “In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.”
Ultimately, any action on amnesty or accountability will emerge from the new Congress. If, as now looks highly likely, the Republicans gain a small edge in the House, it’s almost certain that at minimum there will be investigations of the COVID response.
As for the Senate, as far back as last January, there was substantial bipartisan agreement that an inquiry into the response to COVID “similar to the 9/11 Commission” was needed.
But that was then, and this is now, as the saying goes. Following a bitterly fought 2022 midterm election battle, with the Senate still in the hands of Democrats and the size of a likely Republican House majority up in the air, whether there will truly be a comprehensive investigation and accounting for the COVID disaster remains an open question.
I&I/TIPP publishes timely, unique and informative data each month from our polls on this topic and others of public interest. TIPP has a reputation for polling excellence, one that comes from being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor, and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.