Political Leaders Polarize and Experts Depolarize Public Support for COVID-19 Management Policies Across Countries



Political polarization impeded public support for policies to reduce the spread of COVID-19, much as polarization hinders responses to other contemporary challenges. Unlike previous theory and research that focused on the United States, the present research examined the effects of political elite cues and affective polarization on support for policies to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in seven countries (N = 12,955): Brazil, Israel, Italy, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Across countries, cues from political elites polarized public attitudes toward COVID-19 policies. Liberal and conservative respondents supported policies proposed by political ingroup politicians more than the same policies from political outgroup politicians. Across countries, respondents disliked, distrusted, and felt cold toward outgroup political elites whereas they liked, trusted, and felt warm toward ingroup political elites and experts. This affective polarization was correlated with policy support. These findings imply that policies from bipartisan coalitions and experts would be less polarizing and enjoy broader public support. Indeed, across countries, policies from bipartisan coalitions and experts were less divisive and more widely supported. A follow-up experiment replicated these findings among U.S. respondents considering policies to distribute vaccines internationally. The polarizing effects of partisan elites and affective polarization emerged across nations that vary in cultures, political systems, and prevailing ideology. Contrary to some propositions, the United States was not exceptionally polarized. Rather, polarizing processes emerge from widespread consequences of categorizing people into political ingroups and outgroups. Political elites drive polarization globally, but experts can help to resolve it.

Zoom link: https://eur-nl.zoom.us/j/97715488832?pwd=d1pnQkxheUs0NFh2ZFpRTzA3NklvQT09

Meeting ID: 977 1548 8832