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Faculty of Economics

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

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

American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, forthcoming


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.

Keywords: coronavirus, Health, Leadership, Persuasion, Risky Behavior

JEL Codes: D10, I31, Z13

Author links: Tiago Cavalcanti  

Publisher's Link:

COVID-19 Economic Research Special Feature: Do Leaders' Words and Example Affect Citizens' Risky Behaviour During the Pandemic?

Cambridge Working Paper in Economics Version of Paper: More than Words: Leaders' Speech and Risky Behavior During a Pandemic, Ajzenman, N., Cavalcanti, T. and Da Mata, D., (2020)

Papers and Publications

Recent Publications

Bhattacharya, D., Dupas, P. and Kanaya, S. Demand and Welfare Analysis in Discrete Choice Models with Social Interactions Review of Economic Studies, accepted [2023]

Ambrus, A. and Elliott, M. Investments in Social Ties, Risk Sharing, and Inequality Review of Economic Studies [2021]

Brotherhood, l., Cavalcanti, T., Da Mata, D. and Santos, C. Slums and Pandemics Journal of Development Economics [2022]

Iyer, S. Religion and Discrimination: A Review Essay of Persecution and Toleration: The Long Road to Religious Freedom Journal of Economic Literature [2022]