Political ideology drives health behavior, especially during pandemic, KU study shows

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LAWRENCE – When examining the determinants of an individual’s health outcomes, physicians and researchers consider personal factors such as age, race, gender, or socioeconomic factors such as quality of health. education, economic stability or access to health care. A new study from the University of Kansas adds to the evidence that political ideology can be a social determinant of health, especially during public health crises.

Researchers have long considered that a person’s association with an ideological outlook can impact long-term health behaviors, such as enacting public smoking bans to prevent lung cancer, or opposition to vaccines due to concerns about side effects, but the COVID -19 pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to study how it plays out in behavior during a public health emergency. For the study, the authors conducted two surveys and a review of ideology and health studies, finding that political beliefs influenced health attitudes and behaviors during the pandemic.

Mugur Geana, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas“What this study shows is that political partisanship and ideology appear to be one of the most important drivers of health behavior as it relates to COVID-19,” said lead author Mugur Geana, associate professor of journalism and mass communication and director of the Center for KU. Excellence in health communications to underserved populations. “The US Department of Health and Human Services defines social determinants of health as conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health outcomes. . Because ideology depends on group membership and influences interpersonal relationships, we believe it should also be considered a social determinant of health.

This finding is particularly important to remember at a time of significant political polarization in the United States, wrote Geana and co-authors Nathaniel Rabb and Steven Sloman of Brown University’s Policy Lab. The study was published in the journal SSM-Population Health.

For the study, researchers first conducted a social media convenience sample survey through the Center for Excellence and Health Communications to Underserved Populations, followed by a survey of a representative sample at the nationally through Brown’s Policy Lab. Respondents were asked about their political ideological beliefs as well as their knowledge of COVID-19, attitudes and beliefs related to COVID-19 risk factors, and demographic information. The surveys, conducted in late 2020, also asked where people got information about the pandemic, whether they intended to get vaccinated, whether they had COVID-19 themselves or knew someone. who did it, whether they wore masks and practiced social distancing, and other related information. questions. Analysis of data from both surveys suggested that ideology was a significant predictor for all dependent behavioral variables, and in most cases the strongest.

For the third part of the study, the authors reviewed 181 articles on the emerging behavioral literature on COVID-19 and analyzed the results of 44 selected studies that examined the influence of ideology on the behaviors of health. It was found to be a significant predictor of responses in 79% of study estimates, and it had the largest effect on COVID-19-related behaviors in 39% of them. No other variable, such as age, gender, education, or race/ethnicity, was the best predictor in nearly as many studies.

The three lines of evidence, taken together, contribute to the growing body of knowledge that the political ideology of individuals will influence their behavior in relation to their own health and that of the public. This has significant potential ramifications for public health as well as health policy and strategic communications.

“It was obvious that we expected to see differences in attitudes and behaviors based on political partisanship, but we wanted to know what its impact was and whether our results mirrored those of other studies,” Geana said. “To our surprise, we found that ideology was the strongest predictor of behavior related to COVID-19. When we take all of this into account, it suggests that in times of crisis, like the pandemic, and in a polarized society, ideology is an important driver of how people behave when it comes to health.

Geana said the study was not intended and should not be used to defend any ideology or argue that an ideology is right or wrong. The objective was to contribute to the body of knowledge on how ideology influences health behavior in times of crisis and to raise awareness of this phenomenon among policy makers, health managers and health communicators, in particular in the hyperpolarized climate of the United States.

Geana has conducted similar studies on how Kansas residents received information about the pandemic and assessed risk, as well as how the United States and Chile, two seemingly different nations, approached the crisis. Together, these studies show the importance of considering multiple variables, including ideology or political partisanship, when assessing health behavior, and promote the understanding that a message will not resonate the same way. with all in terms of health interventions and when it comes to addressing valid concerns that people may have in regard to their health.

“It shows that we need to keep an open mind and make sure the messages of the health interventions we design are appropriate for the audience we’re trying to reach at the time,” Geana said.

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