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Economic narratives and policy ppinions: a survey experiment on Covid-19 stories

Narratives may impact people’s beliefs on relevant policy issues, and political context may mediate these effects. Indeed, some specific contexts may be more easily swayed by certain stories that provide explanations for current social and economic phenomena. This higher propensity to attach credibility to different stories may produce a divergence of opinions on crucial issues leading to policy polarization. We explore this issue by considering the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as a natural experiment that creates the ideal conditions for a narrative to enforce and spread. In particular, we run a survey experiment in the US by exposing subjects to different possible explanations on the causes of the Covid-19 pandemic. First, we find evidence that subjects’ beliefs on the causes of the pandemic are influenced by the story they are presented with. We then show that, relative to those in democratic states, subjects living in republican leaning states changed their opinions on relevant policy dimensions such as Trade and Climate Change, in opposite and predictable directions, when exposed to the story that the virus originated from a human error in a lab in China. Thus, our findings provide support to the idea that recalling stories that are part of larger narratives may lead to an increase in polarization. Finally, we explore the underlying features of social contexts associated with states’ political orientation that moderate the impact of narratives on policy opinions.

Lead investigator:

Armenak Antinyan


Zhongnan University of Economics and Law

Primary topic:

Attitudes, media & governance

Region of data collection:

North America

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