The COVID‐19 disease pandemic is one of the most pressing global health issues of our time. Nevertheless, responses to the pandemic exhibit a stark ideological divide, with political conservatives (versus liberals/progressives) expressing less concern about the virus and less behavioral compliance with efforts to combat it. Drawing from decades of research on the psychological underpinnings of ideology, in four studies (total N = 4441) we examine the factors that contribute to the ideological gap in pandemic response—across domains including personality (e.g., empathic concern), attitudes (e.g., trust in science), information (e.g., COVID‐19 knowledge), vulnerability (e.g., preexisting medical conditions), demographics (e.g., education, income) and environment (e.g., local COVID‐19 infection rates). This work provides insight into the most proximal drivers of this ideological divide and also helps fill a long‐standing theoretical and empirical gap regarding how these various ideological differences shape responses to complex real‐world sociopolitical events. Among our key findings are the central role of attitude‐ and belief‐related factors (e.g., trust in science and trust in Trump)—and the relatively weaker influence of several domain‐general personality factors (empathic concern, disgust sensitivity, conspiratorial ideation). We conclude by considering possible explanations for these findings and their broader implications for our understanding of political ideology.
Stark ideological differences exist across a wide range of attitudinal and behavioral indices of pandemic response, with more conservative individuals reliably exhibiting less concern about the virus. These findings illustrate the extent to which the pandemic has become politicized.
A range of factors contribute to this ideological gap in pandemic response, but some are substantially more important than others.
Several factors that have received attention in public and academic discourse about the pandemic appear to contribute little, if at all, to the ideological divide. These include news following, scientific literacy, perceived social norms, and knowledge about the virus.
The most critical factors appear to be trust in scientists and trust in Trump, which further highlights the politicization of COVID‐19 and, importantly, the antagonistic nature of these two beliefs. Efforts to change and, especially, disentangle these two attitudes have the potential to be effective interventions.