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Liberal vs. conservative: Which political ideologies encourage people more to downplay the COVID-19 threat?

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New study looks beyond Democrats, Republicans, and Independents/other parties.

People who believe in libertarianism and anti-egalitarianism ideas are more likely to dismiss COVID-19’s dangers and oppose government action, according to a news release referring new study published in the journal Risk Analysis.

Yilang Peng, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, looked examined data from two polls to see if there was a link between sentiments concerning COVID-19 and political ideologies.

The first survey of 500 Americans asked them to identify their political party, rate their political views (from extremely liberal to extremely conservative), and rate their agreement on a scale with statements about Social Dominance Orientation (equality and resource distribution among groups), libertarianism, and other ideological factors.

There were roughly equal numbers of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents/other party participants.

Peng discovered that people who believe in libertarianism and anti-egalitarianism are less concerned about COVID-19 and more inclined to resist government initiatives such as mask mandates and immunization in his statistical analysis of the data. (Libertarians support individual liberty and generally reject government intrusion into citizens’ private life and economic activity, whereas anti-egalitarian beliefs are opposed to social equality and fairness.)

Peng did a second analysis of data from another poll done by the American National Election Studies (ANES) before and after the 2020 U.S. presidential election to confirm his initial findings. In both surveys, a total of 7,449 adults took part. The questions were not the same as those in Peng’s poll, but they covered the same topics of political ideologies and sentiments toward COVID-19. Individuals who support libertarianism and anti-egalitarianism are more likely to oppose government responses to COVID-19, according to his examination of the data.

Political ideology encompasses a wide range of concepts, worldviews, and issue viewpoints. Citizens may, for example, take a liberal perspective on economic matters (such as social welfare) yet a conservative stance on social issues such as abortion. The previous study has found a link between political ideology and opinions regarding COVID-19, which is commonly measured on a liberal-conservative scale.

Varied elements of political ideology, according to Peng, can have different implications on views toward sociopolitical issues, such as vaccines, climate change, and coming technology like self-driving cars.

“Simply identifying as a liberal or conservative does not cover the full scope of political ideology and world views,” said Peng. “Since political ideology reflects citizens’ ideas about how an ideal society should be structured, it would naturally influence citizens’ preferences for societal responses to a crisis such as the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Both surveys indicated that an individual’s political orientation and party identification influenced their belief in science, as well as their sentiments toward the pandemic.

“This contributes to accumulating evidence that trust is a crucial variable in risk communication about science issues,” adds Peng. 

Furthermore, the findings revealed that political orientation and party affiliation continue to influence COVID-19 attitudes. Such findings, according to Peng, validate elite cueing as a potent technique for shaping popular opinions of science issues.

“An examination of the role of ideological components may advance our theoretical understanding of why certain science issues become polarized while also providing implications for the design of communication campaigns and policies that effectively resonate with partisan audiences.”

COVID-19 messaging from left-wing activists and politicians, for example, have generally focused on the themes of caring and fairness, according to previous study. This may not sit well with folks on both sides of the political aisle. Individuals with anti-egalitarian ideas, in particular, may not be as concerned about improving equality and protecting disadvantaged people, according to Peng.

Future studies might investigate whether communication tactics that address libertarian ideals can better appeal to partisan audiences, such as framing public health interventions as a way to increase citizens’ liberty and independence and give them more choices and autonomy.

Image Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

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