Political Ideology Predicts Perceptions of the Threat of COVID-19 (and Susceptibility to Fake News About It)

Calvillo, Dustin P.; Ross, Bryan J.; Garcia, Ryan J. B.; Smelter, Thomas J.; Rutchick, Abraham M.
Social Psychological and Personality Science

The present research examined the relationship between political ideology and perceptions of the threat of COVID-19. Due to Republican leadership’s initial downplaying of COVID-19 and the resulting partisan media coverage, we predicted that conservatives would perceive it as less threatening. Two preregistered online studies supported this prediction. Conservatism was associated with perceiving less personal vulnerability to the virus and the virus’s severity as lower, and stronger endorsement of the beliefs that the media had exaggerated the virus’s impact and that the spread of the virus was a conspiracy. Conservatism also predicted less accurate discernment between real and fake COVID-19 headlines and fewer accurate responses to COVID-19 knowledge questions. Path analyses suggested that presidential approval, knowledge about COVID-19, and news discernment mediated the relationship between ideology and perceived vulnerability. These results suggest that the relationship between political ideology and threat perceptions may depend on issue framing by political leadership and media.