SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19), has exposed a lack of governmental capacity and preparedness for pandemics within the United States and around the globe since its emergence in December 2019. Besides the much-publicized failures to make enough tests and medical supplies available, U.S. federal, state, and local governmental officials have struggled to coordinate a consistent, coherent message for citizens to social-distance. President Donald Trump has quarreled with governors and belittled the media. Federal health agency experts have been sidelined or contradicted. Some states, such as Florida and Texas, have appeared to prioritize the economic consequences of the pandemic.3 In households across the country, citizens are being exposed daily to contradictory arguments from various messengers on the need to shelter vs. preserve the economy.
I recently conducted an artefactual survey experiment on a nationwide panel of U.S. adults, in which public-health information regarding COVID-19 was transmitted via alternative issue frames and different government messengers.
The analysis suggests the use of the pro-health frame generally had a positive effect -- in tandem with a presidential messenger -- on respondents’ preference to avoid unnecessary social activity. Conversely, the use of a pro-economic frame had a negative effect on the preference of respondents for social-distancing. Effective public messaging during emergencies may be shaped by the type of messenger. But clearly, the message matters.
I work as an Assistant Professor at the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. There, I direct the MGMT Lab.