Polarization and Public Health: Partisan Differences in Social Distancing during the Coronavirus Pandemic

49 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2020 Last revised: 29 Jul 2020

See all articles by Hunt Allcott

Hunt Allcott

Microsoft Corporation - Microsoft Research New England

Levi Boxell

Stanford University

Jacob Conway

Stanford University

Matthew Gentzkow

Stanford University

Michael Thaler

Harvard University

David Y. Yang

Harvard University

Date Written: July 23, 2020

Abstract

We study partisan differences in Americans’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Political leaders and media outlets on the right and left have sent divergent messages about the severity of the crisis, which could impact the extent to which Republicans and Democrats engage in social distancing and other efforts to reduce disease transmission. We develop a simple model of a pandemic response with heterogeneous agents that clarifies the causes and consequences of heterogeneous responses. We use location data from a large sample of smartphones to show that areas with more Republicans engage in less social distancing, controlling for other factors including public policies, population density, and local COVID cases and deaths. We then present new survey evidence of significant gaps at the individual level between Republicans and Democrats in self-reported social distancing, beliefs about personal COVID risk, and beliefs about the future severity of the pandemic.

Keywords: Coronavirus, Political polarization, Media trust, Health behaviors

JEL Classification: D72, D81, I12

Suggested Citation

Allcott, Hunt and Boxell, Levi and Conway, Jacob and Gentzkow, Matthew and Thaler, Michael and Yang, David Y., Polarization and Public Health: Partisan Differences in Social Distancing during the Coronavirus Pandemic (July 23, 2020). Journal of Public Economics, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3570274 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3570274

Hunt Allcott

Microsoft Corporation - Microsoft Research New England ( email )

One Memorial Drive, 14th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Levi Boxell

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA
United States

Jacob Conway (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Matthew Gentzkow

Stanford University ( email )

Michael Thaler

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

David Y. Yang

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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