Combating COVID-19 with charisma: Evidence on governor speeches in the United States

Ulrich Thy Jensen*, Dominic Rohner, Olivier Bornet, Daniel Carron, Philip Garner, Dimitra Loupi, John Antonakis

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskrift/Konferencebidrag i tidsskrift /Bidrag til avisTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


Using field and laboratory data, we show that leader charisma can affect COVID-related mitigating behaviors. We coded a panel of U.S. governor speeches for charisma signaling using a deep neural network algorithm. The model explains variation in stay-at-home behavior of citizens based on their smart phone data movements, showing a robust effect of charisma signaling: stay-at-home behavior increased irrespective of state-level citizen political ideology or governor party allegiance. Republican governors with a particularly high charisma signaling score impacted the outcome more relative to Democratic governors in comparable conditions. Our results also suggest that one standard deviation higher charisma signaling in governor speeches could potentially have saved 5,350 lives during the study period (02/28/2020–05/14/2020). Next, in an incentivized laboratory experiment we found that politically conservative individuals are particularly prone to believe that their co-citizens will follow governor appeals to distance or stay at home when exposed to a speech that is high in charisma; these beliefs in turn drive their preference to engage in those behaviors. These results suggest that political leaders should consider additional “soft-power” levers like charisma—which can be learned—to complement policy interventions for pandemics or other public heath crises, especially with certain populations who may need a “nudge.”

TidsskriftLeadership Quarterly
StatusUdgivet - dec. 2023


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