Narratives on COVID-19 and Policy Opinions: A Survey Experiment
60 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2021
Date Written: January 8, 2021
Narratives impact people’s opinions on relevant policy issues, and their political context may influence these effects. Indeed, some specific contexts may be more easily swayed by certain stories that provide explanations for current social and economic phenomena. We explore this issue by considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a natural experiment that creates the ideal conditions for existing narratives to gain momentum and spread. In particular, we run a survey experiment in the US by exposing subjects to two media-based popular explanations on the causes of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lab narrative attributes the upstart of the pandemic to human error and scientific misconduct in a laboratory in China, while the Nature narrative describes the genetic and biological causes of the virus. We find evidence that subjects’ beliefs on the origins of the disease are influenced by the narrative they are presented with. Moreover, the Lab narrative leads subjects living in Republican leaning states to express less favorable opinions about trade openness and the relevance of climate change relative to those living in Democratic leaning states. Thus, our findings provide support for the idea that recalling stories that are part of larger narratives can lead to divergence of opinions on crucial issues leading to an increase in policy polarization. Finally, we explore the underlying features of social contexts associated with US states’ political orientation, that moderate the impact of narratives on policy opinions.
Keywords: Economic Narratives, COVID-19, Policy Issues, Survey Experiment
JEL Classification: D72, D83, C83, C99, P16, Z18
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