Moral Force: Leaders’ Actions and Social Distancing


pdf (1MB)


Moral Force: Leaders’ Actions and Social Distancing

February 21, 2022

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders’ actions can influence whether individuals stay at home or ignore social distancing orders. Mexican President López Obrador held public events in different states of the country during the health emergency. This paper studies whether his example of contravening social distancing recommendations reduces social distancing.

Using mobility data from UNDP-Grandata and a generalized event study design, findings indicate that López Obrador ’s public appearances at the beginning of the pandemic increased mobility rates in the municipalities of the states he visited in the days following the events.

Furthermore, using electoral data from the 2018 presidential election, findings also indicate that mobility rates increase in municipalities where his political support is high after the President’s events. Media coverage is the primary mechanism driving these results, which suggests that leaders’ actions are relevant to influencing decisions when individuals have limited information.