Partisan Polarization and Resistance to Elite Messages: Results from a Survey Experiment on Social Distancing
20 Pages Posted: 5 May 2020
Date Written: May 5, 2020
COVID-19 has compelled officials to institute social distancing policies, shuttering much of the economy. At a time of low trust in government and high political polarization, Americans may only support such disruptive policies if recommended by politicians of their own party. A related concern is that some Americans may resist advice coming from "elite" sources such as government officials, public health experts, or the news media. We test these possibilities using novel data from an April 2020 online survey of 1,912 Pennsylvania residents. We uncover partisan differences in views on several coronavirus-related policies. Yet overall, respondents report strong support for social distancing policies and high levels of trust in medical experts. Moreover, a survey experiment finds no evidence of more negative reactions to or less support for social distancing policies when they are advocated by elites, broadly defined. Instead, respondents over 65 prove more likely to adopt expert-advocated positions.
Keywords: elite messaging, social distancing, survey experiment
JEL Classification: I12, I18, H41, M38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation