A number of factors may contribute to how closely an individual adheres to social-distancing guidelines put forward by authorities, with local pandemic conditions, risk tolerance, and political partisanship among them. But John Barrios of Washington University, in research conducted with Chicago Booth’s Luigi Zingales, Northwestern’s Efraim Benmelech and Paola Sapienza, and Rice University’s Yael V. Hochberg, finds there’s another relevant factor: civic capital, a measure Barrios describes as having to do with trust in institutions. The research indicates that in US locations where civic capital is higher—as measured by voter participation—people’s response to the loosening of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions was muted, suggesting that some measure of compliance didn’t require the full force of law. Where civic capital is lower, on the other hand, the data show that people began shrugging off social-distancing mandates even before they were lifted.

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