The Effect of Policy Responses to Infectious Disease on Feelings of Fear and Anxiety

12 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2020 Last revised: 20 Nov 2020

See all articles by Michael M. Bechtel

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

William O'Brochta

Washington University in St. Louis

Margit Tavits

Washington University in St. Louis

Date Written: October 17, 2020

Abstract

To successfully address large-scale public health threats such as the novel coronavirus outbreak, policymakers need to limit feelings of fear and anxiety that threaten social order and political stability. We study how policy response to an infectious disease affects mass fear using data from a survey experiment conducted on a representative sample of the adult population in the United States (N=5,461). We find that fear and anxiety are strongly affected by the final policy outcome, relatively mildly by the severity of the initial outbreak, and minimally by policy response type and rapidity. This result holds across various subgroups of individuals regardless of their partisan identification, level of exposure to coronavirus, knowledge of the virus, and several other theoretically relevant characteristics.

Keywords: policy response, public opinion, anxiety, fear, political behavior, survey experiment, COVID-19, infectious disease, public health

JEL Classification: C90, I12, I18, I28, K10, P16

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and O'Brochta, William and Tavits, Margit, The Effect of Policy Responses to Infectious Disease on Feelings of Fear and Anxiety (October 17, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3721401 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3721401

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

William O'Brochta

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1208
Saint Louis, MO MO 63130-4899
United States

Margit Tavits

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1208
Saint Louis, MO MO 63130-4899
United States

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