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Flight to Safety: COVID-Induced Changes in the Intensity of Status Quo Preference and Voting Behavior

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2021

JAMES BISBEE*
Affiliation:
NYU, United States
DAN HONIG*
Affiliation:
University College London, United Kingdom
*
James Bisbee, Postdoctoral Fellow, NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, NYU, United States, jhb362@nyu.edu.
Dan Honig, Associate Professor of Public Policy, School of Public Policy and Department of Political Science, University College London, United Kingdom, dan.honig@ucl.ac.uk.

Abstract

The relationship between anxiety and investor behavior is well known enough to warrant its own aphorism: a “flight to safety.” We posit that anxiety alters the intensity of voters’ preference for the status quo, inducing a political flight to safety toward establishment candidates. Leveraging the outbreak of the novel coronavirus during the Democratic primary election of 2020, we identify a causal effect of the outbreak on voting, with Biden benefiting between 7 and 15 percentage points at Sanders’s expense. A survey experiment in which participants exposed to an anxiety-inducing prompt choose the less disruptive hypothetical candidate provides further evidence of our theorized flight to safety among US-based respondents. Evidence from 2020 French municipal and US House primary elections suggests a COVID-induced flight to safety generalizes to benefit mainstream candidates across a variety of settings. Our findings suggest an as-yet underappreciated preference for “safe” candidates in times of anxiety.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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