Does gender explain support for COVID-19 policies?

Scientific knowledge increases support for COVID-19 containment policy among women, not men.

Sam Fuller
Published in
5 min readAug 26, 2020

The onset of the 2019 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic revealed a distinct lack of preparation and decisive intervention by the world’s governments. In the United States alone and as of August 2020, there have been over 5.12 million documented cases resulting in over 163,000 deaths. This toll on human life has clearly illustrated the need to implement policies to prevent the spread of the virus.

Despite the risks posed by COVID-19 and the struggle by all levels of American government to contain the virus, the mass public’s perceptions and beliefs about COVID-19 and related containment policies are mixed. Moreover, Democratic and Republican partisans in the mass public and elected office have often taken contrasting views on what the government’s role in containing the virus should be — this being most clearly illustrated by the antagonism between Democratic governors and President Donald Trump.

President Trump watching a COVID-19 briefing by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY)

Given the lack of understanding of how the mass public is responding to unprecedented governmental proposals to contain the pandemic, we explore the extent to which gender interacts with scientific knowledge in shaping attitudes toward government containment policies in the American public. We also explore how this interactive effect influences Democrats and Republicans differently, given the vast amount of political science literature showing divergence in policy preferences between the two parties in this era of polarization.

Our research, published in the special COVID-19 issue in the journal Politics & Gender, uses the Pew American Trends Panel survey to assess whether scientific knowledge and gender influence the propensity of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to support COVID-19 containment policies. Specifically, we rely on two survey waves, the first measuring scientific knowledge and the second measuring support for government restrictions on the following activities:

  1. International travel
  2. Most businesses (except grocery stores & pharmacies)
  3. Large gatherings greater than 10 people