Background Political ideologies drove public actions and health behaviors in the first year of the global pandemic. Different ideas about contagion, health behaviors, and the actions of governing bodies impacted the spread of the virus and health and life. Researchers used an immediate, mixed methods design to explore sociocultural responses to the virus and identified differences and similarities in anxiety, fear, blame, and perceptions of nation across political divides. Methods Researchers conducted 60 in-depth, semi-structured interviews and administered over 1,000 questionnaires with people living in the United States. The team analyzed data through an exploratory and confirmatory sequential mixed methods design. Results In the first months of the pandemic interviewees cited economic inequality, untrustworthy corporations and other entities, and the federal government as threats to life and pandemic control. Participants invoked ideas about others to determine blame. Findings reveal heavy associations between lack of safety during a public health crisis and blame of “culture” and government power across the political spectrum. Conclusion Data indicate anxiety across political differences related to ideas of contagion and the maleficence of a powerful elite. Findings on how people understand the nation, politics, and pandemic management contribute to understanding dimensions of health behaviors and underlying connections between anxiety and the uptake of conspiracy theories in public health. The article ends with recommendations drawn from project findings for future pandemic response.
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