More Than Words: Leaders’ Speech and Risky Behavior during a Pandemic
54 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2020 Last revised: 2 Nov 2020
Date Written: April 22, 2020
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: Suggested Citation