Risk Perception Through the Lens of Politics in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Even when, objectively speaking, death is on the line, partisan bias still colors beliefs about facts. We show that a higher share of Trump voters in a county is associated with lower perceptions of risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Trump voter share rises, individuals search less for information on the virus, and engage in less social distancing behavior, as measured by smartphone location patterns. These patterns persist in the face of state-level mandates to close schools and businesses or to “stay home,” and reverse only when conservative politicians are exposed and the White House releases federal social distancing guidelines.
We thank Lauren Cohen, Francesco D’Acunto, Jonathan Dingel, Ray Fisman, Tarek Hassan, Seema Jayachandran, Elisabeth Kempf, Christian Leuz, Charlie McLure, Paola Sapienza, Andrei Shleifer, Kelly Shue, Margarita Tsoutsoura, Michael Weber, Constantine Yannelis, Luigi Zingales for helpful conversations, comments and suggestions. Jin Deng provided excellent research assistance. All errors are our own. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Stigler Center and the Becker Friedman Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.