More Than Words: Leaders’ Speech and Risky Behavior during a Pandemic

54 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2020 Last revised: 2 Nov 2020

See all articles by Nicolas Ajzenman

Nicolas Ajzenman

Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) - Sao Paulo School of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Tiago Cavalcanti

University of Cambridge

Daniel Da Mata

Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) - Sao Paulo School of Economics

Date Written: April 22, 2020

Abstract

How do political leader’s words and actions affect people’s behavior? We address this question in the context of Brazil by combining electoral information, in-person card transactions and geo localized mobile phone data for more than 60 million devices throughout the entire country. We find that after Brazil’s president publicly and emphatically dismissed the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and advised against isolation, the social distancing measures taken by citizens in pro-government localities weakened compared to places where political support of the president is less strong, while pre-event effects are insignificant. The impact is large and robust to different empirical specifications. We also document an increase in in-person card transactions, consistent with the relative reduction in social distancing in pro-government localities. This result holds when excluding purchases in pharmacies, which suggests that the effects on mobility are at least partially driven by non-essential trips. Moreover, we find suggestive evidence that this impact is driven by localities with relatively higher levels of media penetration, municipalities with presence of active Twitter accounts, and municipalities with a larger proportion of Evangelic parishioners, a key group in terms of support for the president.

Keywords: Health, Coronavirus, Leadership, Persuasion, Risky Behavior, Social Distancing

JEL Classification: D1, I31, Z13

Suggested Citation

Ajzenman, Nicolás and Cavalcanti, Tiago and Da Mata, Daniel, More Than Words: Leaders’ Speech and Risky Behavior during a Pandemic (April 22, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3582908 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3582908

Nicolás Ajzenman (Contact Author)

Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) - Sao Paulo School of Economics ( email )

Rua Itapeva 474 s.1202
São Paulo, São Paulo 01332-000
Brazil

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Tiago Cavalcanti

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Daniel Da Mata

Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) - Sao Paulo School of Economics ( email )

Rua Itapeva 474
São Paulo, São Paulo 01332-000
Brazil

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