Government reputational effects of COVID-19 public health actions: A job opportunity evaluation conjoint experiment

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Michael J. Nelson
Christopher Witko


Bureaucratic reputation, COVID-19, Conjoint experiment, Economic performance, Employment


The tradeoff between short-term economic and public health has been very salient in debates surrounding U.S. government responses to COVID-19. But highly salient choices by very visible executive branch leaders, like state COVID-19 public health actions, have implications beyond current economic performance. We argue that by shaping perceptions of state governments, or state “reputations”, these responses may affect how individuals evaluate economic opportunities in different states. To examine this possibility, we conducted a conjoint experiment presenting subjects with different pairs of job opportunities varying many attributes of the location, job and the state governor’s response to COVID-19. We find that individuals evaluate job opportunities more favorably when a state governor has more aggressively mandated social distancing measures. These effects are largest for individuals concerned about COVID-19 and Democrats, but even Republicans prefer jobs in states where the governor took some meaningful action compared to making a purely symbolic statement. Our findings indicate that governors and their advisors should consider how their COVID-19 responses shape state reputations, which ultimately have consequences for economic performance beyond the immediate crisis.

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