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Political ideology and pandemic lifestyles: the indirect effects of empathy, authoritarianism, and threat

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  • Terrence Hill, University of Texas at San Antonio, United States
  • Ginny Garcia-Alexander, University of Texas at San Antonio
  • ,
  • Andrew P. Davis, University of North Carolina
  • ,
  • Eric T. Bjorklund, Arizona State University
  • ,
  • Luis Antonio Vila-Henninger
  • ,
  • William C. Cockerham, University of Alabama at Birmingham
In this paper, we integrate theory and research from sociology, psychology, and political science to develop and test a mediation model that helps to explain why political conservatism is often associated with pandemic behaviors and lifestyles that are inconsistent with public health recommendations for COVID-19.

Using national data from the 2021 Crime, Health, and Politics Survey (n = 1743), we formally test the indirect effects of political conservatism (an index of Republican party identification, conservative political orientation, right-wing news media consumption, and 2020 Trump vote) on pandemic lifestyles (an index of social distancing, hand sanitizing, mask usage, and vaccination) through the mechanisms of empathy (concern about the welfare of others), authoritarian beliefs (authoritarian aggressiveness and acquiescence to authority), and pandemic threat perceptions (threats to self and to the broader society).

Our results confirm that political conservatism is associated with riskier pandemic lifestyles. We also find that this association is partially mediated by lower levels of empathy, higher levels of authoritarian beliefs, and lower levels of perceived pandemic threat.

Understanding why political conservatism is associated with riskier pandemic lifestyles may eventually lead us to ways of identifying and overcoming widespread cultural barriers to critical pandemic responses.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalDiscover Social Science and Health
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

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