The Determinants of Compliance: COVID-19 in the MENA
Panel IX-23, 2023 Annual Meeting
On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm
Effectively responding to a public health crisis like COVID-19 depends, perhaps more than governments and experts had initially appreciated, on winning hearts and minds. This includes convincing populations that masking requirements and lockdowns are effective, and that making the sacrifices necessary to comply with these protocols is worthwhile. It also includes convincing populations that vaccination is safe and effective.
In a global media environment where misinformation and skepticism are rampant, convincing the public to comply with masking requirements, lockdowns, and vaccination campaigns often hinges on the underlying attitudes of ordinary people—their trust in the foreign countries manufacturing vaccines, their trust in their government’s directives, and their social solidarity and willingness to make sacrifices for their communities.
The observable behavioral modifications required by the COVID-19 pandemic—masking, changing daily routines, and taking new vaccines—provide scholars with an opportunity to reexamine important questions in the study of public opinion and to understand how these opinions and attitudes shape actual behavior during a society-wide crisis. The papers in this panel leverage the fact that the pandemic demanded significant behavioral change from ordinary citizens. In different ways, they each explore a type of pandemic-related compliance in order to make contributions to classic literatures in the politics of MENA, including attitudes towards foreign powers and foreign interventions, how compliance is generated in authoritarian settings, and the legacy of violence both for trust in authorities and for prosocial behavior. The papers make use of a variety of data, from surveys and survey experiments to fine-grained data on violence and satellite nighttime light emissions. One paper examines data from seven countries in the region, while the other two focus specifically on Lebanon and Iraq, respectively.
Most countries in the world deploy scientific advances developed abroad. Do people accept or reject these advances based on their origins, particularly for new and poorly understood breakthroughs such as the COVID vaccine? We argue that people rely on their preexisting attitudes toward the vaccine’s country of origin when assessing the desirability of the vaccine itself, thereby substituting an easy judgment task for a harder one. We study the effect of source information on COVID vaccine hesitancy in Lebanon with a cueing experiment that treats subjects with the vaccine’s country of origin. We find wide variation in baseline levels of skepticism across vaccines, but, consistent with expectations, hesitancy drops dramatically with favorable predispositions toward the source. Yet we also find suggestive evidence that baseline hesitancy rates vary according to simple familiarity with the vaccines themselves rather than something inherent to the country sources. In short, subjects give the benefit of the doubt to sources they view favorably, even as they grapple with the harder question about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines themselves.
Almost all governments around the world issued public health mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19. The literature focusing on citizen compliance to these mandates in democracies has highlighted the importance of partisan cues and trust in authorities. Yet, we know little about how or why citizens comply with such public health measures in autocracies, where partisan effects and trust in authorities are more difficult to observe and may operate differently. In this paper, we explore the determinants of compliance with mask mandates using an original survey of 8,589 citizens across 7 countries in the Middle East and North Africa conducted during the pandemic.
A research agenda on the long-term impact of violence on trust in institutions, and a research agenda on the long-term impact of violence on prosocial behavior provide strong grounds for thinking that the legacy of conflict will be relevant for behavior during current crises. But the effects identified by these two research agendas go in opposite directions: the legacy of violence appears to reduce trust in institutions, but to increase prosocial behavior. What, then, should we expect citizens to do during a crisis in which political authorities mandate prosocial behavior? We look to answer this question by investigating the long-term effects of civil war violence on behavior during a public health crisis in the case of Iraq during the COVID-19 pandemic. We focus on citizens’ compliance with public health measures mandated by the government. We use spatio-temporally disaggregated satellite data on nighttime lights to measure compliance. We investigate the effect of violence using disaggregated data on the civil war in Iraq since 2003.