Leadership, public health messaging, and containment of mobility in Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic

Available from: 
February 2021
Paper author(s): 
Sandra Aguilar-Gomez
Eva O. Arceo-Gomez
Elia De la Cruz Toledo
Pedro J. Torres López
Education - Health

The effectiveness of wide-spread policy measures in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic hinges upon compliance with the ordinances. This study explores how leaders’ discourse relates to compliance with stay-at-home orders to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico. We use municipality-level mobility data from geolocation events of smartphone users and daily briefings from the President and Health. Minister Dr. Hugo López-Gatell. Using quantile regressions, sentiment analysis and topic modelling, we shed light on the dynamics between political discourse and containment of mobility. We find discrepancies between the content and tone of the President and those of the COVID-19 czar. These contrasts translate into differences on the association between the content of the speeches and mobility patterns. Our findings, using a LASSO penalized quantile regression, indicate that when President AMLO’s discourse is positive, mobility tends to decrease, but when the Health Minister’s discourse is positive, mobility tends to increase. Across the distribution of mobility changes, those in the inter-quantile range are more responsive to the discourse. We also find that the discourse’s association to mobility is mediated by awareness of COVID-related topics and by individuals’ political affiliation. Lastly, we show that mobility patterns prior to the conferences are not causing a change in discourse which clears concerns over reverse causality. Overall, messaging across top officials shows mixed results on mobility, but even minor changes in mobility represent relevant channels of transmission in a pandemic. It remains untested whether a concerted message would effectively increase compliance with social distancing.


Research section: 
Working Papers