The Virus of Fear: The Political Impact of Ebola in the United States

Authors: Filipe Campante , Emilio Depetris-Chauvin and Ruben Durante

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Vol. 16, No 1, 480-509, January, 2024

We study how public anxiety over the threat of a disease outbreak can affect voter behavior by looking at the Ebola scare that hit the United States in 2014. Exploiting timing and locations of the four cases diagnosed in the country, we show that heightened concern about Ebola led to a lower Democratic vote share and lower turn-out, despite no evidence of a general anti-incumbent effect (including 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, mediated by issues plausibly associated with the specific triggering factor