The Costs of Polarizing a Pandemic: Antecedents, Consequences, and Lessons


One of the signature features of the American response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the degree to which perceptions of risk and willingness to follow public health recommendations have been politically polarized. This paper will succinctly review research showing that every phase of the pandemic and key policies were polarized, including judgments of risk, spatial distancing, mask wearing, and vaccination. We will describe the role of political ideology, partisan identity, leadership, misinformation, and mass communication in this public health crisis. We will then assess the overall impact of polarization on the progression of the pandemic, offer a analysis of key policy questions, and identify a set of research questions for scholars and policy experts. Finally, we will include policy recommendations for avoiding the same mistakes in future public health crises.

Perspectives on Psychological Science (In Press)