The COVID-19 coronavirus has upended American’s lives and heightened our anxieties. That’s likely to have a lot of political consequences. How do Americans respond to imminent threats and how does our anxiety change how we seek information, who we trust, and what policies we support? Bethany Albertson and Shana Gadarian find that Americans seek information, trust the experts, and seek protective policies in response to public health threats like infectious disease. But our biases increase and our instincts are often to blame outsiders. We explore research on anxiety in response to threats on a special conversational edition of the Science of Politics.

Studies: Anxious Politics
Interviews: Bethany Albertson, University of Texas; Shana Gadarian, Syracuse University


Matt Grossmann: This week on The Science of Politics, how anxiety and response to threats changes our political behavior. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann.

The COVID-19 virus has upended American’s lives and heightened our anxieties, that’s likely to have a lot of political consequences. How do Americans respond to imminent threats? How does our anxiety change how we seek information, who we trust, and what policies we support?

Today I talk to the experts, Bethany Albertson of the University of Texas and Shana Gadarian of Syracuse University. They are the authors of the Cambridge book, Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World. They find that Americans want information, trust the experts, and seek protective policies in response to public health threats like infectious disease. But it’s not all rosy, our biases increase and our instincts are often to blame outsiders. This is a special conversational edition. Listen in.

Bethany, why don’t you start out with a summary of the book for the nonacademic audience? What were your big findings and their applications?

Bethany Albertson: We were interested in how anxiety changes the way people engage in politics. And so we set out to explore when you’re anxious, how does that change the way you look at the news, who do you trust, what kind of politics are you going to support and pursue? And so we looked in a couple of issue areas. Most relevant to our conversation today, public health, but we also looked how anxiety plays out in immigration and terrorism and climate change. So those were our four issue areas, and we’ll speak mostly about public health today.

But the overarching argument of our book is that when we’re anxious, we seek out protection. And this need to protect ourselves, because being anxious is this uncomfortable feeling, has ramifications for when we look at news, there’s certain types of news we look at when we’re anxious. And when we put our trust in other people, there are certain sorts of people we put our trust in, and we support different sorts of politics, policies than when we’re not anxious. So that’s kind of a broad overview of what we’re up to in the book.

Matt Grossmann: So Shana, what do people normally think are the effects of anxiety on political behavior, both the public and in the scholarly community? And where do you confirm that and challenge it?

Shana Gadarian: Sure. So I think the public and the scholarly community actually have very different views of anxiety. So I think generally our sense from maybe political theory and from kind of public discourse is that anxiety and fear are bad for politics because they make you rely on your fears, and it makes you rely on things that might not seem rational in decision making.

And that’s actually contra to a lot of the literature in political science. Most notably the kind of affective intelligence literature and some of the kind of work that comes out of that, which would suggest that in fact anxiety, and emotion more generally, are important to rationality. They go hand-in-hand to rationality, and that we can’t actually make decisions well in the absence of emotion.

And that anxiety in particular, it has this nice function according to the affective intelligence literature in getting people to pay attention and make decisions in politics based on new information rather than standing decisions. And that standing decision in political life is usually partisanship. So in fact anxiety in the affective intelligence literature is great because it gets us to actually pay attention to what’s going on in elections, for instance.

I think where our book comes in is somewhere in between, which is that anxiety is a tool that has both normatively good implications, but also some troubling implications. So one of them is we do find in one of our empirical works that anxiety gets people to pay attention to new information in the news, and that’s really good when we want people to pay attention to threats. But it also gets you to pay attention to the most threatening information that’s in the environment. I think many of us are experiencing that right now. So it’s really important to get people to pay attention when there is a threatening environment.

But sometimes what happens is we pay attention to that which is most threatening, which only seems to make us feel more anxious. So there are these kind of anxiety is a double edged sword kind of findings all throughout the book.

Matt Grossmann: So Bethany, give us a little bit of the background of how this book came together, and your co-authorship, and sort of what came first in putting this together.

Bethany Albertson: Well, Shana and I both went through graduate school at a time when the affective intelligence literature was, I feel, really taking hold. I remember reading some of that work in grad school and thinking, my first reaction was, “This is wonderful.” It’s been so cognitive. And the way that emotion had been kind of either ignored or derided in the literature, it was seen as what silly people used to make political decisions or people who weren’t well informed.

And so I think both Shana and I are excited about that, but we’re also thinking about it as that’s more complicated. So we wanted to engage with that piece of the literature that got us excited, to use emotional terms, but also try to square it with what we saw happening in politics, which is campaigns strategically using anxiety, using fear in order to get votes, not to get people informed. Although that would be lovely if we had politicians who were like, “How do we scare people into becoming better democratic citizens?” We don’t think that’s actually what they’re up to. So kind of the theoretical thing we were pursuing was how do we make space for these interesting findings of emotion in politics in what we see as kind of the partisan and persuasive world of campaigns and elections?

And the other kind of story I like to tell about how our project started because political scientists or academics in general can be very like it was completely intellectual, it was completely about the ideas, the practical side of it was Shana was finishing up graduate school, and I was finishing up this pre-doc. And I was going to Washington, and we were friends, and we wanted to stay in touch. And what better way to stay in touch than say, “We’re going to start doing some studies together”? And it was initially just one study and then, I don’t know, we just kept going.

Matt Grossmann: So Shana, tell us about the differences across these four areas that you studied, public health, immigration, terrorism, and climate change, and if anything stood out about the public health threats relative to the others.

Shana Gadarian: Sure. So as Bethany said, we started off with basically one study, and our first study was using immigration as a policy area. Immigration is what we call in the book, we call it a framed threat. Now, we can think of these as partisan versus nonpartisan threats across these four policy areas.

So immigration is one of these areas where not everyone across the political spectrum thinks about the threat in the same way. So when you ask people, which we did in our first study, to tell us what made them anxious about immigration, there are different things that make people anxious. So in immigration, it’s the loss of jobs, and the competition, and it’s immigrants taking social services, and loss of culture. And then there’s some other people who think about the threats from immigration as being exploitation of immigrants.

And so these areas in the book are ones where… So immigration and climate change are ones we call framed threats, that is politicians need to do a lot of work to try and convince you that you should be scared, and particularly what is the threat? And that’s different than say terrorism and public health, and maybe public health has changed, and we can talk about that, where the threats are kind of immediate, and they’re bodily, and perhaps they’re dealing with existential threats about death. And so they’re ones where we don’t actually need politicians to necessarily tell you that you should be scared. Democrats and Republicans alike are scared about terrorism after 9/11.

So the reason we have these four policy areas is because they vary on these dimensions of this kind of, again, what we call in the book framed versus unframed, but you can think of them as partisan versus nonpartisan. So politicians in these partisan areas both have to tell you what to be scared about. And then there’s a benefit to one party over another over what kinds of policies people want and what they think of as protective because the parties have different areas that they are seen as stronger on.

The honest truth is part of the reason public health is in here is that I had a postdoc through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for two years setting health policy. And one of the ways that I used that time there was we added the public health studies. But they actually work really well as a contrast, in the book at least, to these immigrations studies because it wasn’t hard to make people across the political spectrum anxious about, say, a smallpox outbreak, which is what we talk about in the book. But again, I think one of the things we’ll get to in this conversation is how that might have changed over time since we did the book.

Matt Grossmann: So Bethany, one of the big potential benefits of anxiety that you find is in information seeking and evaluation of expert information. Tell us about that and how much of that do you think we’re seeing? How much of the good side are we seeing in the current COVID-19 outbreak?

Bethany Albertson: So well, the first good effect of anxiety, which Shana pointed to as well, is that it gets people informed. And she also noted that it biases information processing, it biases towards the threatening information. And maybe in the COVID-19 world that’s exactly the information we need. And so this could be the circumstance or one of the circumstances under which both the getting people to pay more attention to the news and getting people to take in the scary news, the threatening news, I would argue is good for the mass public.

We’re all having to make some pretty hard sacrifices right now, or being asked to make hard sacrifices right now. And what makes that easier, or more of a no brainer for me, is I see on the news what can happen when people don’t make these choices.

One good thing with anxiety in politics is it gets people informed. Maybe it’s directing us to the information we need. This all gets much more complicated when politicians are generating things for us to feel anxious about and we have debates about whether or not these are real threats or not, right?

When the anxiety is based around something that shouldn’t be partisan, that is an immediate bodily threat to all of us, then we should all feel anxious and taking the threatening information and take protective actions.

The other side that I think is good, and I think maybe Shana can come in and talk about the negatives more, but the other side that’s good is in our public health studies in particular, we found when people are anxious about public health crises, they put their trust in medical experts or in people with medical expertise. So in the smallpox study, for instance, people who are more anxious about smallpox through our experiment, we manipulate this by having people read a newspaper article that’s about a current smallpox outbreak or a smallpox outbreak that happened 25 years ago.

And it’s important to note that in this study we of course debrief the subjects at the end and tell them that there is no smallpox outbreak, thank goodness. But when they read about that story, if they’ve read about it, having just happened, that boosts their anxiety compared to the historical story. And then with that boosted level of anxiety, we give them a list of people, “Who do you trust?” And the people and the organizations are… some of them are political, some of them aren’t. Some of them are medical experts and some of them aren’t.

And what we find is that anxiety about a public health crisis boosts trust in things like the CDC, in these organizations with medical expertise to offer. It doesn’t boost trust in nonmedical or medically oriented facets of the government. It doesn’t boost trust in like politicians. We gave people a chance to trust Oprah. It doesn’t boost trust in Oprah, and so we walked away from that study seeing a really clear, normatively positive side of anxiety in politics that in a public health crisis, anxiety gets people to put their trust in experts.

Matt Grossmann: Good to hear the good side. But Shana, now your turn to tell about that.

Shana Gadarian: I think the first we can, we can think about in the information seeking this, this bias that we see, in information seeking and evaluation toward threatening information. Again, I think one of the downsides here is that people kind of spin up their own anxiety, right?

I always use the example of like if you… Current is if you have a headache and you go on WebMD, it’s not that hard to convince yourself you have a brain tumor, right? Because what you’re doing is you’re trying to find information that’s useful and relevant, but you pay attention to that stuff that’s most threatening because you’re trying to protect yourself from perhaps the worst case.

I think any one of us who is now has a dry cough and a runny nose may have convinced ourselves that we have COVID-19 so I think there is this downside that we see in this kind of information and in the information seeking part. And given that our information environment is now flooded with lots and lots of threatening information, I do think this only serves to spin up people’s anxiety level.

And so while information seeking is a really good coping mechanism, that doesn’t mean that it’s always going to serve to lower people’s anxiety. And one of the other things we know about coping is that avoidance is a coping mechanism also. And so I think if people start to be overwhelmed by the news, about the very rapidly changing, threatening information, they may start to tune out entirely. And that’s not great for public health either.

I think in terms of the policies that people want when they’re anxious are often policies, particularly in our public health studies. So as Bethany said, we convince people to be anxious about these public health threats by either using newspaper stories or asking them… We have another study using H1N1 in 2010 to ask them to tell us what makes them anxious about H1N1.

To be clear to all the listeners, we do not give people any of these diseases. We just ask them to think about them or being anxious about them. And then we ask them what kind of policies they want. And the people who are in their anxiety conditions are more supportive of lots of policies that the WHO recommends to fight, say in a smallpox outbreak. Like quarantine, light taking people’s property that was infected. And while that may help in public health, it also means taking away people’s civil liberties.

And if we go even further and think about like when are people willing to take away other civil liberties, it’s normally, and we know this from the other literature on civil liberties, it’s normally people are more supportive of taking liberties away from groups they already dislike. And so I think one of the downside is that we don’t have a lot of this work in our book, but I think what we’re seeing in the political environment is that some of the scapegoating and attitudes and attacks on Asian-Americans maybe one of the downsides. People are anxious, they’re looking to protect themselves and then they’re kind of lashing out at groups that they’re blaming for the threat itself.

Matt Grossmann: So Bethany, walk us through that H1N1 study that you did and what the findings were and then if you could contemplate what kind of a setup you might do to study the current outbreak and whether you have any hypotheses about things being different.

Bethany Albertson: We have students in the lab and this was done at UT and we ask them to list either their thoughts or their feelings. When you think about H1N1, what do you think or when you think about H1N1 what do you worry about? And that worry induction is, the idea is to hod H1N1 thoughts constantly across both groups and just crank up the anxiety in one of them. It’s a very subtle manipulation but it’s nice in that it gets everybody thinking about what makes them personally worried about this.

But H1N1 was, if we think back to that time, it was a fear that was all around in this country. And by the time we did this study, the height of the fear had dropped a bit, but it was still salient for these students. And so we got differences in these groups on levels of anxiety. We asked them after they do their thought listings, who do they trust in? And again, have the split between expert and non-expert actors, they were given the opportunity to say how confident they felt in, for instance, in the federal government and how confident they felt in President Obama as president at the time.

And we found a boost in confidence for the government and not for President Obama, which again we put to this that in a public health crisis it’s not really the space for political actors. We want to see government organizations, particularly those with medical expertise put front and center and less emphasis on the partisan or blatantly political leaders.

We also in that study had a, one of the only times I’ve gotten to do a behavioral measure, would love to again, but we asked people at the end if they wanted to take either hand sanitizer or a pen as a thank you for doing the study, and they were about 50 cents a piece I had done. We had done research comparing these and so we just had like a little gift basket to see what people wanted to take away. And of course we have an RA recording what they took as they left the lab hypothesizing that the worried condition would be more likely to take the hand sanitizer, although the pen was very nice.

So, we do see a small and significant if you buy the 0.1 cutoff effect of but small of heightening anxiety about H1N1 boosting support for… not support for actually the behavior of taking hand sanitizer. That is a good for foreshadowing I think, to how we would do this today. You would have ceiling effects and all the hand sanitizer would be taken. You wouldn’t have hand sanitizer to provide.

And so if we were to replicate the study today, I don’t think it would be interesting maybe to do the experiment, but I’d be more interested in just doing a survey and seeing where it’s such a high, high moment of anxiety, how ordinary people are responding and what they think about who’s the expert. I don’t know. Perhaps Shana has a more creative mind, Don, in an experimental induction.

Shana Gadarian: No, I actually have a slightly different hypothesis, which is I think one of the things that we find in the lab is we do actually can make students anxious in march about a flu outbreak in our induction. It does work, but it is not high levels of anxiety. And I do think some of that is reflected in the differences across age groups today. And I do wonder if we did this again, if all the hand sanitizer would be gone, if we focus again on undergraduates.

So I think that young people… I mean if you see those pictures of the beaches in Florida, it is not clear to me that young people are taking it as seriously as people our age and older. And so I do wonder if there is both a difference in the levels of anxiety and the kinds of behaviors that young people might take because the framing of this disease has been that it is not young people at risk. So I don’t think they are properly anxious as a whole. Obviously there’s variation but I do wonder if we would find some of those same findings, but like the levels would be different across different age groups in anxiety and then their behaviors might be different across age groups too.

Matt Grossmann: And what about the partisan and ideological patterns? I think you find that at least you cite some literature that the conservatives might have sort of a more instinctual response to threats. But of course in this circumstance we had Fox News and the President downplaying the threat for a couple of weeks and then kind of switching. So what should we expect from the previous research about those kinds of partisan and ideological patterns and how would they apply to this circumstance?

Bethany Albertson: So I think this is one of the areas that seems most different in our study and in today’s environment. One is over time and two is just the way that we designed the experiments. So in our both the smallpox and the H1N1 experiments, we do ask people after we make them anxious, who they trust. And we give them, as Bethany said, a variety of actors who are both relevant and irrelevant to kind of medical expertise. But we never have a condition. So we find that the kind of trust in medical actors goes up and there’s no… But we never find that trust goes down in political actors and we always find trust going up or having no effect.

So I think there’s a couple of things that are different today. As you mentioned, one is that we were able to make people across the partisan spectrum all equally anxious about health threats and secondly that the polarization today and the news environment today has made it very difficult, at least to this point, I think that’s changing for, Republicans to both recognize the threat from COVID-19 and then want to actually do something to counter that threat and that comes a lot from the messaging from the White House and from conservative media that is telling people, Coronavirus isn’t a big threat. It’s not. It’s a hoax. Right. And so, again, that’s changing rapidly and so we should see these kind of differences across parties shrink a bit.

But if you look back at some of the kind of findings on Ebola for instance, Republicans were much less satisfied with how the Obama administration was dealing with Ebola. We all feel better, generally when our party is in charge, but this kind of undercutting that the White House has been doing of the CDC messages and the messages from the states, that we don’t have that in our studies.

So it’s hard to think about if we had had that in 10 years ago, what we would have seen in terms of both threat and who people trust. I think it would look a lot like today but we don’t have that kind of partisan undercutting like in our studies. So our studies are what happens in a world where the president basically lets the CDC be in charge and is consistent with those messages.

Matt Grossmann: So Bethany, you also find that the stressed increase support for these kinds of protective policies. So remind us what those are and how they might apply to today.

Bethany Albertson: So the protective policies depend on the area, right? What protects us from a terrorist threat changes or is different from what protects us in a public health threat. For a public health threat, it would be things like requiring quarantines, taking away property from people who are infected, those sorts of protective measures, the sorts of things we’re all asked to now engage in.

Social distancing, or what I like to call physical distancing, because I haven’t used my phone more than I am now. Self-quarantine, those sorts of actions and I think we’re seeing it play out now, though there’s differences in what some elites are telling us to do, the overwhelming message is to stay home and and we see a lot of despite… So there is variance on this as Shayna correctly notes, the spring breakers are I guess in spring break but lots of us are following that more staying in our homes and trying to reduce contact with other people. And of course we have to in plenty of places, our restaurants are closed, our places of work are telling us not to come in and other people are just simply losing their jobs. So there has been a shift towards reduced contact with other people.

Matt Grossmann: You don’t foresee, I guess bigger, I mean, are things like shutting down elections or not letting people travel? Are those in those category as well?

Bethany Albertson: Yeah, a note on the elections one. I’ve never seen such a diverse group of political scientists come together on this petition to protect the election and hold the election in November. So I want to say that my hope is that protective policy around the election is renewed enthusiasm and support for vote by mail. Right? So protective policy there could be, how do we make our voting procedures safe and democracy safe for us and for our members of Congress. They need to be able to vote remotely. So those are some protective policies that I think could help us and still stay consistent with our democratic goals. Obviously shutting the borders and refraining from travel are protective policies.

Matt Grossmann: So Shayna, you didn’t just anticipate the public health agenda. You also wrote a book right before Trump, the Trump administration where you talked a lot about the use of immigration threats.

So tell us a little bit about your findings on immigration and what has changed, if anything in the Trump era in terms of confirming your findings.

Bethany Albertson: I can handle this one if you’d like, Shayna.

So with the immigration studies we see this as a partisan threat and where, Shayna was explaining that in the public health crisis, we never see trust in someone go down.Anxiety either doesn’t affect trust in a variety of actors or it boosts trust in medical experts.

Now in immigration, when you put people in a condition of anxiety, they can actually have lower levels of trust. It’s a partisan issue and partisans are going to blame partisans for things that make them anxious. So on our trust measures, we find that when you’re more anxious about immigration, you are more trusting of the Republican party, which is really interesting. This is Democrats and Republicans become more trusting. It’s not that Democrats start to trust Republicans more on immigration than other Democrats. It’s they trust Republicans more when they’re anxious than they trust Republicans when they’re not anxious. Republicans trust Republicans more when they’re anxious than they trust Republicans when they’re not anxious.

So we attribute this to the owned issued sort of literature where Republicans in general were thought of as more capable on issues of immigration. This is something that I don’t think holds up now but in the blame side of things, when Republicans were anxious about immigration, they actually lowered their level of trust in the democratic party and in the president; President Obama at the time were doing the research.

So one of the differences from the public health research to the immigration research is we see these partisan dimensions and we also see how anxiety can lower trust when it’s played out in this partisan space. That’s really interesting I think for hooking that into what do we expect in a public health crisis now. When the public health crisis is partisan, which it wasn’t in our book, I’m wondering anxiety might boost trust in medical experts, anxiety in particular among Democrats. They already don’t trust Republicans and they don’t trust the president but the prediction off of our immigration studies, remember those Republicans didn’t trust the Democrats or President Obama either, is their trust is going to get even lower.

So first thing I think off of the immigration studies to today’s political context is that anxiety over coronavirus for Democrats would lower levels of trust in the president and the Republican party perhaps. We also saw that anxiety over immigration boost support for for protective policies in that realm.

Matt Grossmann: So we’ve had that two elections in a row where President Trump has tried to raise the threat of immigration, talking about caravans coming soon. Do you see this new threat as impeding his ability to do that? Is the Democrats able to use this as a threat in any way that would help them electorally or is this going to go into just sort of automatically be placed on the president?

Shana Gadarian: Yeah, no, these are great questions. So I think there’s, couple ways to think about this. The first is that the reason that Trump benefits from the kind of immigration anxiety is partially, as Bethany said, this kind of literature about which issues that each party owns and the Republican party has kind of a longstanding issue ownership over immigration. So when people are worried about immigration and we know what they tell us, they’re worried about. They’re worried about issues that Republicans tell them to be worried about, which is things along the lines of, again, loss of language, job competition, that kind of thing.

The solutions that the Republican party offers are ones that Democrats and Republicans alike, when they are made anxious about those kinds of things, are more likely to say, “Yeah, the Republicans can handle that.” So that’s the benefit and that’s why the Trump administration talks about the border so often because to them, it’s this issue that benefits them and that’s where they want to have the fight.

Where issues aren’t owned is on… There are some issues that aren’t owned by the parties, and some of those are like performance issues and I think that’s where we’re going to put coronavirus. So I think the Republican party is going to get a lot of the blame, particularly the president, is going to get a lot of the blame on the performance on Coronavirus. I don’t think anyone really owns public health outbreaks. The democratic party tends to benefit when there’s discussions about healthcare more generally. But I don’t think we don’t have any evidence that they kind of own pandemics. This is more like Hurricane Katrina. So this is more about how well the party in power is handling the current crisis, and I think there’s a little bit of a danger here though. If the democrats look like they’re trying to benefit off of people’s pain from the pandemic and try to make them remember how anxious they were, I think that is not necessarily a winning strategy. I think the strategy is to kind of focus on the performance aspect and the blame attribution for the president in 2020.

Matt Grossmann: Let me rephrase it for Shana speaking about potential long term effects. You observed some short term effects from your experiments, but is there anything we should expect that will last from having this kind of a collective experience?

Shana Gadarian: So I think that’s a good question. I’m not sure that from the book we have the ability to say a lot about the length of how long anxiety lasts. We do have some evidence that concerns about terrorism are very high and long lasting. So we can see from survey data that concerns about a terrorist attack in 2002 were a really strong predictor of vote choice in 2004 and that we can see the effects of terrorism anxiety over the last almost 20 years now in terms of the policies people prefer and their attitudes about things like immigration and border security.

I don’t know if we know yet about the effects of a pandemic like this on longer term, but I do think we’re seeing this kind of opening of a policy window in ways that maybe we haven’t seen in the past. So again, part of this is just speculation, but the government response that is happening now of maybe sending people cash payments and making testing free and opening up Medicare to telemedicine and increasing the social safety net, those kinds of things, I think once people start … and they are coming directly from, again, the anxiety over this disease and the implications for the economy and people’s lives. But I think once people start to see, “Things could be better in my life if I could have more flexibility in my job and I could maybe get some more cash from the government, that’s not so bad.” I think the longer term implications we’re going to see are actually in that policy realm about opening up the possibilities of the way people are thinking about the social safety net.

And again, our book can’t speak to that particularly except that, again, once that anxiety turns on, in some policy areas, it’s hard to turn off. Immigration, terrorism. These are areas that it’s been hard to turn off the anxiety. In pandemics and public health, I think you can turn them off. So once it looks like we don’t have to be in our homes anymore, people might not be worried as much anymore, but some of those policies have changed, they might be now part of our political lives in ways that we don’t notice in the longer term.

Matt Grossmann: Bethany, we want to know what you’re doing from here and we also want to give a chance to talk about where you see the field going from here. If we do see an uptick in Covid-19 studies two years from now, what do you expect we’ll be learning from this?

Bethany Albertson: I think that where this has to go … in our work, we didn’t do messaging from partisan sources and that just seems like an obvious extension. In our smallpox experiment, it was The New York Times story in all conditions, but an obvious extension would be, how is that story received when it’s The New York Times versus on Fox News versus something you saw on your Facebook feed versus something that’s passed around by your friend? So the source of the messaging I think is an obvious place to go. I’ve done some work in this area on threats to elections and stories about threats to elections with some coauthors and this was from The Democracy Fund and their interest in protecting elections, and we found that those sorts of source cues can matter in terms of taking threats seriously.

What else would we do if we were to … I think one of the other interesting things that is going to be important moving forward is the sustained nature of this threat. There’s got to be something different about an attack that happens and then it’s over versus a sustained, you see it coming, it’s coming slowly, and then it ramps up, and we still don’t really know the trajectory of this threat, right? But it’s the difference between growing up some place with an earthquake versus growing up some place with hurricanes, right? Some things happen and then they’re done, some things you see coming, and what’s different about this threat it seems is that it’s just playing out over time and that’s got to have different ramifications for our politics.

Shana Gadarian: I think one of the things I would be interested in thinking about, I do have some new studies with some coauthors going out into the field basically right now looking at responses to coronavirus. I think one of the things we’re interested in that project is how widespread threats are and what kinds of policy areas they apply to. So again, the kinds of solutions that are offered to different kinds of threats do vary by party sometimes, so the kinds of things that the White House is suggesting that we do to try and stay safe, like shut the borders and that kind of more restrictive immigration policy is only one set of possible answers. The other one is more along the lines of what we talked about, expanding the social safety net. But it might be also the case that coronavirus has effects on all sorts of other societal outcomes about altruism. And there’s going to be a lot of downstream effects and we don’t know what they all are yet. I think there will be lots of interesting studies on the effects on air pollution and on work from home and there will be all sorts of interesting implications.

One that we talked about with a reporter this week was, I have hope that this experience will put a dent into the anti-vaccine movement, which I think is very dangerous in that I think the experience of seeing how bad things can get with a pandemic when there is no vaccine may make it harder to make the argument that vaccines aren’t necessary, that herd immunity or essential oils, or whatever it is that people say will keep you safe are clearly not working in this instance. So that’s my hope, is that we’ll see some effects of this experience on those other kinds of movements, like the anti-vaccine movement.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center. I’m your host, Matt Grossmann. We have joined The Democracy Group podcast network and are thrilled to join some of our favorite podcasts in democracy, civil engagement, and civil discourse. Visit to learn more.

Thanks to Bethany Albertson and Shana Gadarian for joining me. Please check out Anxious Politics and then listen in next time.