Unmasking Partisanship: Polarization Undermines Public Response to Collective Risk

30 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2020 Last revised: 18 Nov 2020

See all articles by Maria Milosh

Maria Milosh

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

Marcus Painter

Saint Louis University - Department of Finance

Konstantin Sonin

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy; Higher School of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

David Van Dijcke

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Austin L. Wright

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: November 9, 2020

Abstract

Political polarization may undermine public policy response to collective risk, especially in periods of crisis, when political actors have incentives to manipulate public perceptions. We study these dynamics in the United States, focusing on how partisanship has influenced the use of face masks to stem the spread of COVID-19. Using a wealth of micro-level data, machine learning approaches, and a novel quasi-experimental design, we establish the following: (1) mask use is robustly correlated with partisanship; (2) the impact of partisanship on mask use is not offset by local policy interventions; (3) partisanship is the single most important predictor of local mask use, not COVID-19 severity or local policies; (4) president Trump’s unexpected mask use at Walter Reed on July 11, 2020 and endorsement of masks on July 20, 2020 significantly increased social media engagement with and positive sentiment towards mask-related topics. These results unmask how partisanship undermines effective public responses to collective risk and how messaging by political agents can increase public engagement with policy measures.

Keywords: partisanship, polarization, COVID-19

JEL Classification: H12, I18

Suggested Citation

Milosh, Maria and Painter, Marcus and Sonin, Konstantin and Van Dijcke, David and Wright, Austin L., Unmasking Partisanship: Polarization Undermines Public Response to Collective Risk (November 9, 2020). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2020-102, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3664779 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3664779

Maria Milosh

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Marcus Painter

Saint Louis University - Department of Finance ( email )

Saint Louis, MO
United States

Konstantin Sonin

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Higher School of Economics ( email )

20 Myasnitskaya street
Moscow, 119017
Russia

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

David Van Dijcke

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor ( email )

2350 Hayward Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Austin L. Wright (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1307 E 60th St
Chicago, IL IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.austinlwright.com

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