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

50 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2020 Last revised: 24 Jun 2021

See all articles by Hunt Allcott

Hunt Allcott

New York University (NYU)

Levi Boxell

Stanford University

Jacob Conway

Stanford University

Matthew Gentzkow

Stanford University

Michael Thaler

Harvard University; Princeton University

David Y. Yang

Harvard University

Date Written: April 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 engaged 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.

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 (April 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w26946, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3574415

Hunt Allcott (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Levi Boxell

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA
United States

Jacob Conway

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Matthew Gentzkow

Stanford University ( email )

Michael Thaler

Harvard University ( email )

Princeton University ( email )

United States

David Y. Yang

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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