COVID-19 poses an unprecedented level of risks to the public health and well-being in the United States. This pandemic has led to cascading effects such as rapidly rising unemployment rate, deteriorating mental health, and disturbed stock market among others. This disease presents an opportunity for social scientists to conduct a timely study of American public perceptions of risks associated with COVID-19.
Due to a great amount of uncertainties surrounding this disease, the public has to rely upon authorities for information and guidance. In this study, we aim to answer this overarching question: how does confidence in political leaders shape American public risk perceptions of COVID-19?
Based on a nationally representative data conducted in March 2020, we use latent mean comparison analysis and Structural Equation Modelling to make several findings.
First, confidence in political leaders can reduce risk perceptions of this disease. Second, conservatives show lower risk perceptions than liberals and moderates. Third, confidence in political leaders has mediating effects among conservatives and white Americans, where conservatives and white Americans who have more confidence in political leaders show lower risk perceptions of COVID-19 than other conservatives and white Americans who have less confidence.
These results highlight the enormous challenges facing policy makers who intend to design and implement national public health policies in this polarized environment.