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COVID-19, social distancing, President Trump, moral foundations, pandemic



Purpose: Over the past several months, the coronavirus has infected more than six million Americans and killed nearly 200,000. Governors have issued stay-at-home orders, and prosecutors have filed criminal charges against individuals for defying those orders. And yet many Americans have still refused to keep their distance from their fellow citizens, even if they had symptoms of infection. The authors explore the underlying causes for those who intend to defy these norms.

Methods: Using national-level data from a March 2020 survey of 989 Americans, the authors explore intentions to defy social distancing norms by testing an interactionist theory of foundation-based moral behavior in combination with faith in President Trump during the coronavirus pandemic. The analysis controls for a range of variables, including measures of low self-control and deterrence.

Results: Low self-control is the strongest predictor of defiance intentions. Consistent with interactionist theory, defiance intentions are significantly higher for those holding specific faith in Trump and those endorsing binding foundations. Furthermore, the interaction of these two variables is significant and in the predicted direction. The results hold for two different measures of faith in Trump.

Conclusions: Even with a strong effect for low self-control, faith in President Trump is a strong predictor of refusal to social-distance, and its effect is largest among individuals high in binding foundations.

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Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, v. 6, p. 1-23