More Than Words: Leaders’ Speech and Risky Behavior during a Pandemic
45 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2020 Last revised: 28 Jan 2022
Date Written: April 22, 2020
This paper investigates whether the anti-scientific rhetoric of modern populists can induce followers to engage in risky behavior. We gather electoral information, credit card expenses, and geo-localized mobile phone data for approximately 60 million devices in Brazil. After the president publicly dismissed the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic and challenged scientific recommendations, social distancing in pro-government localities declined. Consistently, credit card expenses increased immediately. Results are driven by localities with higher media penetration levels, active Twitter accounts, and a larger proportion of Evangelical Christians, a critical electoral group.
Keywords: Health, Coronavirus, Leadership, Persuasion, Risky Behavior, Social Distancing
JEL Classification: D1, I31, Z13
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