COVID-19 Beliefs Are Influenced by Politicians, Not Scientists, Researchers Suggest

Source: Pexels
Copyright: Solen Feyissa
License: Licensed by JMIR



A Look at Twitter Users

Hannah Stevens and Karen Nikos-Rose

March 9, 2022

As COVID-19 upended societal norms when it swept through the United States in 2020, a second pandemic—or “infodemic”—was also on the rise. An analysis of Twitter users by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and University of Texas, Austin, suggests that Republican-identifying people who believe their local government has positive intentions are vulnerable to believing politically fueled COVID-19 misinformation. The study did not find the same trend among Democrat-identifying Twitter users.

The article, published in JMIR Infodemiology in February 2022, aims to shed light on the cognitive processes that determine the relationship between partisanship and health misinformation, researchers said. The findings can help state and local health officials improve COVID-19–related messaging in the future, the researchers added.

Our research shows that public health officials can be most successful with their appeals to the public by taking into account pre-existing political views and testing what will or won’t resonate with their constituents because of this. Consumers of health information should be cautious about automatically trusting information broadcast by elected officials based on shared political views — even if they instinctively want to trust them. [Hannah Stevens, coauthor of the paper and a doctoral student at the department of communication, University of California, Davis]

From August 10 through December 23, 2020, researchers collected data via a cross-sectional survey in all 50 states of US-based Twitter users who followed their state’s official public health department’s Twitter accounts. They then surveyed the individuals about party affiliation and other information, collecting more than 250 responses.

Researchers measured inferences on local governments’ goals, as well as demographics and beliefs related to COVID-19 misinformation.

Our data speaks to the reality that health information and ‘facts’ can be subjective and manipulated in service of political agendas rather than public health goals, which is problematic if we ever want to get out of this pandemic. It’s encouraging, however, that constituents who are more critical and skeptical of their local government seem to be less susceptible to misinformation and perhaps even agendas employing it. [Nicholas A. Palomares, coauthor and professor at the department of communication studies, University of Texas, Austin]

Media Resources

Media Contacts:

  • Hannah Stevens, Department of Communication,
  • Karen Nikos-Rose, News and Media Relations, 530-219-5472,



Original article:

Stevens H, Palomares NA. Constituents’ Inferences of Local Governments’ Goals and the Relationship Between Political Party and Belief in COVID-19 Misinformation: Cross-sectional Survey of Twitter Followers of State Public Health Departments
JMIR Infodemiology 2022;2(1):e29246
doi: 10.2196/29246