Marcus Painter, Tian Qiu, 11 May 2020

Social distancing is vital to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. Leveraging smartphone geolocation data, this column examines how political beliefs impact the effectiveness of state-level social distancing orders in the US. The findings suggest that Republicans and misaligned Democrats are less likely to adhere to social distancing orders. Bipartisan support for social distancing measures thus appears to be a key factor in how quickly we can mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Nicolas Ajzenman, Tiago Cavalcanti, Daniel Da Mata, 02 May 2020

Regardless of their scientific soundness, COVID-19 recommendations from political leaders such as President Trump are taken seriously by followers. In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has publicly flaunted social distancing measures and downplayed the seriousness of the disease in at least two well-publicised instances. This column analyses the effects of Bolsonaro’s actions and speeches in the month of March on Brazilians’ social-distancing behaviours, using electoral data and geo-localised mobile phone data from 60 million devices. The findings suggest that social distancing behaviour decreased in municipalities with stronger support for Bolsonaro.

Christian Dippel, Stephan Heblich, 19 February 2019

The importance of leadership in effecting social change is well recorded in history, but the specific role leaders play in coordinating behaviours is less understood. This column uses the case of the Forty-Eighters – revolutionaries expelled from German lands who moved to the US before the American Civil War – to analyse the impact individuals with ‘inherent’ leadership ability have in their networks. The Forty-Eighters went on to play a substantial role in increasing Union Army enlistments in their new home towns, suggesting individuals can have a powerful effect in shaping social norms.

Daron Acemoğlu, Matthew Jackson, 13 June 2011

Economists are increasingly recognising the importance of social norms in determining economic outcomes. While some argue that these norms are set in stone, this column introduces a new framework exploring how these norms emerge, how they can change, and how leadership by individuals can play a pivotal role.

Amanda Goodall, 02 January 2010

The best US universities outperform their European counterparts. This column says part of the gap is due to how universities choose leaders. Outstanding scholars are more likely to be selected as presidents in the top US universities, a move that is associated with improved research performance.

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