Political Polarization and Social Distancing

Political polarization has been rising in the United States in recent years. There are two key reasons contributing to the polarization. First, we naturally hold different beliefs over objective matters. Furthermore, we trust different news sources. According to the 2020 Pew Research Survey around 75% conservative Republicans say they trust the information from Fox News, while 77% liberal Democrats say they distrust it.

Media outlets and politicians on the right and left sent divergent messages about the severity of the crisis during Coronavirus pandemic. A joint study by economists from NYU, Stanford and Harvard university find evidence for partisan differences in social distancing (Allcott et al. 2020). They combined a survey study with GPS location data, where GPS data record daily and weekly visits to the points of interest (POIs). The GPS data shows the strong partisan differences in social distancing behavior that emerged with the rise of COVID. The analysis carefully controlled for local policy, health, weather, and economic variables, the result remains statistically and economically significant. They also used a nationally representative survey to measure the individual behavior and belief differences about social distancing. Demographics, beliefs regarding the efficacy of social distancing, self-reported distancing, and predictions about future COVID cases. They find compare to Republicans, Democrats believe the pandemic is more severe and report a greater reduction in contact with others.


Allcott, Hunt, Levi Boxell, Jacob Conway, Matthew Gentzkow, Michael Thaler, and David Y. Yang. “Polarization and public health: Partisan differences in social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.” NBER Working Paper (2020).

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