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Research Article

The Harmful Effects of Denial: When Political Polarization meets COVID-19 Social Distancing


Tharcisio Leone

German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), DE
About Tharcisio
Tharcisio Leone is an economist, research fellow at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) and he is a PhD candidate in Economics at the Free University of Berlin (FU-Berlin). He has completed the Master’s degree in Public Economics (FU-Berlin), and Bachelor’s degrees in Economics (University of Hanover) and Foreign Trade (Centre Eurípedes of Marília). In the course of his research, he has been a visiting researcher at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (Switzerland), at the University of São Paulo (Brazil) and at the University of Pretoria (South Africa). Already during these studies, he has absolved internships in the area of inequalities and sustainable development at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and at the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations in New York.
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This work uses anonymized geolocation data from 60 million mobile phone users in Brazil to quantify the impact of coronavirus lockdown measures on social distancing. The results confirm that the current share of the population staying home is lower than the target set by the public authorities to combat the spread of COVID-19. Using difference-in-difference and panel data regression to evaluate the determinants of social distancing, this paper confirms a statistically significant association between political support for Bolsonaro and social distancing. Since the Brazilian president is urging the population to ignore the COVID-19 “hysteria” and get back to a normal routine, the impact of social distancing rules on the circulation of people is lower at a statistically significant level in municipalities with a higher share of Bolsonaro voters.


Este trabajo utiliza datos anonimizados de geolocalización de 60 millones de usuarios de teléfonos móviles en Brasil para cuantificar el impacto de las medidas estatales de confinamiento (lockdown) por el coronavirus en el distanciamiento social. Los resultados confirman que la proporción actual de la población que permanece en el hogar es inferior al objetivo fijado por las autoridades públicas para combatir la propagación del COVID-19. Utilizando los métodos de diferencia-en-diferencia y de regresión de los datos de panel para evaluar los determinantes del distanciamiento social, este estudio confirma una asociación estadísticamente significativa entre el apoyo político a Bolsonaro y el distanciamiento social. Dado que el presidente brasileño está instando a la población a ignorar la “histeria” alrededor del COVID-19 y a volver a la rutina normal, el impacto de las reglas de distanciamiento social en la circulación de las personas es menor y estadísticamente significativo en los municipios con una mayor proporción de votantes por Bolsonaro.

How to Cite: Leone, T., 2021. The Harmful Effects of Denial: When Political Polarization meets COVID-19 Social Distancing. Middle Atlantic Review of Latin American Studies, 4(3), pp.10–30. DOI:
Published on 18 Feb 2021.
Peer Reviewed


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