The Persuasive Effect of Fox News: Non-Compliance with Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic
51 Pages Posted: 17 May 2020 Last revised: 7 Sep 2021
Date Written: September 4, 2021
To what extent do mass media outlets influence viewers' trust in scientific evidence and compliance with behavior recommended by scientific experts? Exploiting the US lock-down period of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, we analyze a large longitudinal database that combines daily stay-at-home behavior from approximately 8 million mobile phones and local viewership of cable news networks. Early in the pandemic, several of Fox News' hosts downplayed the severity of the pandemic and the risks associated with the transmission of the virus. A combination of regression analysis and a natural experiment finds that a 10% increase in viewership of Fox News in a zip code causes a 0.76 percentage point reduction in compliance with stay-at-home behavior. The results imply a media persuasion rate that is larger than typical advertising persuasion rates on consumer behavior. Similar analyses using viewership of MSNBC and CNN, which supported lock-down measures, were inconclusive but suggested a smaller, positive effect on compliance with social distancing regulations.
Keywords: Media persuasion, misinformation, COVID-19, advice discounting
JEL Classification: D72, L82, I12, I18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation