COVID-19 Risk Perception and Support for COVID-19 Mitigation Measures among Local Government Officials in the U.S.: A Test of a Cultural Theory of Risk

AuthorTamara Dimitrijevska-Markoski,Julius A. Nukpezah
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(3) 351 –380
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221147243
COVID-19 Risk
Perception and Support
for COVID-19 Mitigation
Measures among Local
Government Officials
in the U.S.: A Test of a
Cultural Theory of Risk
Tamara Dimitrijevska-Markoski1
and Julius A. Nukpezah2
This study relies on a cultural theory of risk to examine how cultural biases
(hierarchy, individualism, egalitarianism, and fatalism) of local government
officials affect their COVID-19 risk perception and support for COVID-19
mitigation measures. After controlling for partisanship, religiosity, and other
factors, the analysis of survey data from county governments in the U.S.
revealed that cultural biases matter. Officials with egalitarian and hierarchical
cultural biases report higher support for adopting COVID-19 mitigation
measures, while those with individualistic cultural biases report lower
support. These findings highlight the need to understand cultural worldviews
and develop cultural competencies necessary for governing traumatic events.
cultural theory of risk, COVID-19, county, partisanship, religion
1University of South Florida, USA
2Mississippi State University, USA
Corresponding Author:
Tamara Dimitrijevska-Markoski, School of Public Affairs, University of South Florida, 4202 E.
Fowler Avenue, SOC 396 Tampa, FL 33620, USA.
1147243AAS0010.1177/00953997221147243Administration & SocietyDimitrijevska-Markoski and Nukpezah
352 Administration & Society 55(3)
The COVID-19 pandemic took the lives of millions of people, brought dev-
astating health and economic consequences, but has also divided, or at least
heightened, many divisions within communities and across state lines (Soujaa
et al., 2021). Soon after the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S., all states declared
a “state of emergency or a public health emergency” (Bergquist et al., 2020,
p. 628). However, in the months that followed, the adoption of mitigation
measures such as social distancing and mask mandates varied widely (Bazzi
et al., 2020), and states were reopening their economies at varying speeds
(Bergquist et al., 2020).
As a federal system, the U.S. had a decentralized response to the COVID-
19 pandemic, where the federal government led the economic and fiscal
response, funding testing and vaccines research, and the state governments
were primarily responsible for containment of the virus and testing with local
governments providing immediate needs of their residents (Benavides &
Nukpezah, 2020; Bergquist et al., 2020). While the premise of decentralized
systems is that state governments are better positioned to decide what is best
for their residents, data have shown regional differences in COVID-19 cases
(Frey, 2021) and in COVID-19 prevention behavior (Desmon, 2020). The
uncoordinated approach and lack of critical unified political commitment
may have handicapped the COVID-19 pandemic response (Carter & May,
2020). Research has shown that mitigation measures reduce the transmission
of the virus and lead to fewer hospitalizations and deaths (Courtemanche
et al., 2020; Sears et al., 2020). Moreover, appointed and elected public man-
agers are at the forefront in local COVID-19 response. They take the lead in
developing policies and implementing them to address the challenges that the
COVID-19 has unleashed on society. Consequently, this study aims to exam-
ine what factors drive the varying levels of COVID-19 risk perceptions and
support for COVID-19 mitigation measures among county officials.
Most of the decisions to loosen the COVID-19 restrictions have followed
party and geographic lines, with southern states and Republican governors
reopened their economies faster (Manchester & Easley, 2020). Recent
research has also shown strong partisan division in social distancing behav-
ior, miles traveled, non-essential visits, mask-wearing, and concern over the
virus (Allcott et al., 2020; Barrios & Hochberg, 2020; Fan et al., 2020;
Kushner Gadarian et al., 2020). In addition to partisanship, religiosity nega-
tively affects adherence to mitigation measures (DeFranza et al., 2021) and is
associated with higher mobility (Hill et al., 2020). On the other hand, there is
also evidence that political orientation and religiosity are inadequate explana-
tions of behavior during the pandemic, and most people were very concerned

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