Partisanship, health behavior, and policy attitudes in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic

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PLoS One. 2021 Apr 7;16(4):e0249596. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249596. eCollection 2021.


OBJECTIVE: To study the U.S. public’s health behaviors, attitudes, and policy opinions about COVID-19 in the earliest weeks of the national health crisis (March 20-23, 2020).

METHOD: We designed and fielded an original representative survey of 3,000 American adults between March 20-23, 2020 to collect data on a battery of 38 health-related behaviors, government policy preferences on COVID-19 response and worries about the pandemic. We test for partisan differences COVID-19 related policy attitudes and behaviors, measured in three different ways: party affiliation, intended 2020 Presidential vote, and self-placed ideological positioning. Our multivariate approach adjusts for a wide range of individual demographic and geographic characteristics that might confound the relationship between partisanship and health behaviors, attitudes, and preferences.

RESULTS: We find that partisanship-measured as party identification, support for President Trump, or left-right ideological positioning-explains differences in Americans across a wide range of health behaviors and policy preferences. We find no consistent evidence that controlling for individual news consumption, the local policy environment, and local pandemic-related deaths erases the observed partisan differences in health behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. In further analyses, we use a LASSO regression approach to select predictors, and find that a partisanship indicator is the most commonly selected predictor across the 38 dependent variables that we study.

CONCLUSION: Our analysis of individual self-reported behavior, attitudes, and policy preferences in response to COVID-19 reveals that partisanship played a central role in shaping individual responses in the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic. These results indicate that partisan differences in responding to a national public health emergency were entrenched from the earliest days of the pandemic.

PMID:33826646 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0249596