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

45 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2020 Last revised: 28 Jan 2022

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

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

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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