More than Words: Leaders' Speech and Risky Behavior During a Pandemic

American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, forthcoming

Ajzenman, N., Cavalcanti, T. and Da Mata, D

Abstract

This paper investigates whether the anti-scientific rhetoric of modern populists can induce followers to engage in risky behavior. We gather electoral information, credit card expenses, and geo-localized mobile phone data for approximately 60 million devices in Brazil. After the president publicly dismissed the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic and challenged scientific recommendations, social distancing in pro-government localities declined. Consistently, credit card expenses increased immediately. Results are driven by localities with higher media penetration levels, active Twitter accounts, and a larger proportion of Evangelical Christians, a critical electoral group.

Classification JEL
D10
I31
Z13