The Virus of Fear: The Political Impact of Ebola in the U.S.
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics (Forthcoming)
We study how public anxiety related to the threat of a disease outbreak can affect the
behavior of voters, by looking at the Ebola scare that hit the U.S. right before the 2014
midterm elections. Exploiting the timing and location of the four cases diagnosed in
the U.S., we show that heightened concern about Ebola led to a lower vote share for the
Democrats, as well as lower turnout, despite no evidence of a general anti-incumbent effect
(including for President Obama). Voters displayed increasingly conservative attitudes on
immigration but not on other ideologically-charged issues. Our findings indicate that
emotional reactions can have a strong electoral impact, and that this is mediated by
issues that can be plausibly associated with the specific triggering factor.