skip to content

Faculty of Economics

Journal Cover

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. The Empirical Content of Binary Choice Models Econometrica [2021]

Merrick Li, Z. and Linton, O. A ReMeDI for Microstructure Noise Econometrica [2022]

Aidt, T. S. Review of Forging the Franchise: The Political Origins of the Women's Vote Journal of Economic Literature [2022]

Ritz, R. Does Competition Increase Pass-Through? Rand Journal of Economics, forthcoming [2023]