Discussion paper

DP14707 More than Words: Leaders’ Speech and Risky Behavior During a Pandemic

How do political leader’s words and actions affect people’s behavior? We address this question in the context of Brazil by combining electoral information and geo-localized mobile phone data for more than 60 million devices throughout the entire country. We find that after Brazil’s president publicly and emphatically dismissed the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and advised against isolation, the social distancing measures taken by citizens in pro-government localities weakened compared to places where political support of the president is less strong, while pre-event effects are insignificant. The impact is large and robust to different empirical model specifications. Moreover, we find suggestive evidence that this impact is driven by localities with relatively higher levels of media penetration and is stronger in municipalities with a larger proportion of Evangelic parishioners, a key group in terms of support for the president.


Cavalcanti, T, N Ajzenman and D da Mata (2020), ‘DP14707 More than Words: Leaders’ Speech and Risky Behavior During a Pandemic‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 14707. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp14707