To shop or shelter? Issue framing effects and social-distancing preferences in the COVID-19 pandemic

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Aaron Deslatte


Messenger effects, Issue framing, COVID-19, Bayesian inference, Experiment


As a result of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19), U.S. federal, state, and local governmental officials have struggled to coordinate consistent, coherent messaging for citizens to social-distance. The pandemic presents an important context for examining alternative communication frames employed by governments. This study presents results from an artefactual survey experiment in which public-health information regarding COVID-19 was transmitted to a panel of U.S. adult respondents via alternative issue frames and messengers. The findings highlight the importance of delivering consistent messages to the public. Public-health frames positively influence citizen preferences for avoiding unnecessary travel. Conversely, economic frames appear to have the opposite effect, increasing the preference to make unnecessary trips to shop. However, federal messengers appear to strengthen the framing effect relative to expert messengers.

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