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. We find that a 10% increase in Fox News cable viewership (approximately 0.13 higher viewer rating points) leads to a 1.3 percentage point reduction in the propensity to stay at home. We find a persuasion rate of Fox News on non-compliance with stay-at-home behavior during the crisis of about 5.7%− 28.4% across our various social distancing metrics.

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BFI Working Paper Mar 2, 2020

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