More Than Words: Leaders’ Speech and Risky Behavior during a Pandemic

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May 2020
Paper author(s): 
Nicolás Ajzenman
Tiago Cavalcanti
Daniel Da Mata
Education - Health
Politics and Economy

How do political leader’s words and actions affect people’s behavior? We address this question in the context of Brazil by combining electoral data and geo-localized mobile phone data for more than 60 million devices throughout the entire country. We find that after Brazil’s president publicly and emphatically dismisses the risks associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic and advises against isolation, social distancing measures of citizens in pro-government localities reduce relative to those places in which his support is weaker, while pre-event effects are insignificant. The impact is large and robust to different empirical model specifications. We also find suggestive evidence that this impact is driven by localities with relatively higher levels of media penetration.


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