Infections and Elections: Did an Ebola Outbreak Influence the 2014 U.S. Federal Elections (And if so, How)?

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Description: Longitudinal analyses of pre-election polling data tested whether (and how) an Ebola outbreak predicted voting intentions preceding the 2014 U.S. federal elections. Analyses were conducted on nationwide polls pertaining to all House of Representatives elections, and on state-specific polls pertaining to 34 Senate elections. Analyses compared voting intentions expressed before vs. after the initial Ebola outbreak, and assessed correlations between internet search activity and voting intentions. Results revealed (a) the psychological salience of Ebola was associated with increased intention to vote for Republican Party candidates, and (b) this effect occurred primarily within states characterized by norms favoring Republican candidates (the effect was reversed in states with opposing norms). Ancillary analyses addressed several interpretational issues. Overall, these results suggest that disease outbreaks may influence voter behavior in two psychologically distinct ways: Increased inclination to vote for politically conservative candidates, and increased inclination to conform to popular opinion.

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