Political Identity Over Personal Impact: Early U.S. Reactions to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021)
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Abstract

Research suggests political identity has strong influence over individuals’ attitudes and beliefs, which in turn can affect their behavior. Likewise, firsthand experience with an issue can also affect attitudes and beliefs. A large survey of Americans was analyzed to investigate the effects of both political identity and personal impact on individuals’ reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. Results show that political identity and personal impact influenced the American public’s attitudes about and response to COVID-19. Consistent with prior research, political identity exerted a strong influence on self-reports of emotional distress, threat perception, discomfort with exposure, support for restrictions, and perception of under/overreaction by individuals and institutions. The difference between Democrats and Republican responses were consistent with their normative value differences and with the contemporary partisan messaging. Personal impact exerted a comparatively weaker influence on reported emotional distress and threat perception. Both factors had a weak influence on appraisal of individual and government responses. The dominating influence of political identity carried over into the bivariate relations among these self-reported attitudes and responses. In particular, the appraisal of government response divided along party lines, tied to opposing views of whether there has been over- or under-reaction to the pandemic. The dominance of political identity has important implications for crisis management and reflects the influence of normative value differences between the parties, partisan messaging on the pandemic, and polarization in American politics.

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