We test for and measure the effects of cable news in the US on regional differences in compliance with recommendations by health experts to practice social distancing during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We use a quasi-experimental design to estimate the causal effect of Fox News viewership on stay-at-home behavior by using only the incremental local viewership due to the quasi-random assignment of channel positions in a local cable line- up. The average partial effect of Fox News viewership in a zipcode implies that 1 percentage point increase in cable viewership reduces the propensity to stay at home by 8.9 percentage points compared to the pre-pandemic average. We find a persuasion rate of Fox News on non- compliance with stay-at-home behavior during the crisis of about 33.5% − 50% across our various social distancing metrics.

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BFI Working Paper Mar 2, 2020

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