Body Politic: Disgust Sensitivity, Partisanship, and Public Opinion on Viral Outbreaks

Speaker: John Sides

Vanderbilt University

(joint with Cindy D. Kam)

Abstract: What explains public reactions to viral outbreaks? Drawing on surveys conducted in 2016 and 2020, we compare and contrast attitudes about the Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19 outbreaks. We show that attitudes during each outbreak have a notable relationship to people's tendency to feel disgust. What differs, however, is the role of partisanship -- which a larger effect on attitudes about COVID-19, one that has grown over time. Notably, however, disgust sensitivity appears to moderate the effect of partisanship, such the partisan divide is much smaller among people more likely to feel disgust. These two factors appear more important than either ethnocentrism or local COVID prevalence in explaining attitudes.

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