During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. conservative politicians and the media downplayed the risk of both contracting COVID-19 and the effectiveness of recommended health behaviors. Health behavior theories suggest perceived vulnerability to a health threat and perceived effectiveness of recommended health-protective behaviors determine motivation to follow recommendations. Accordingly, we predicted that—as a result of politicization of the pandemic—politically conservative Americans would be less likely to enact recommended health-protective behaviors. In two longitudinal studies of U.S. residents, political conservatism was inversely associated with perceived health risk and adoption of health-protective behaviors over time. The effects of political orientation on health-protective behaviors were mediated by perceived risk of infection, perceived severity of infection, and perceived effectiveness of the health-protective behaviors. In a global cross-national analysis, effects were stronger in the U.S. (N = 10,923) than in an international sample (total N = 51,986), highlighting the increased and overt politicization of health behaviors in the U.S.
This research received support from the New York University Abu Dhabi (VCDSF/75-71015) to J.N., the University of Groningen (Sustainable Society & Ubbo Emmius Fund) to N.P.L., and the Instituto de Salud Carlos III (COV20/00086) co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF ?A way to make Europe? to M.M. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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