New UW-Parkside research available on how COVID-19 information is disseminated

Published: May 12, 2021

SOMERS – Recently published data involving UW-Parkside researchers points to a partisan impact when it comes to disseminating COVID-19 information to the public.

UW-Parkside Assistant Professor of Political Science Dr. Michael Hansen published the COVID-19 research with three undergraduate students and a Swedish Ph.D. candidate. The team found a positive relationship between Democratic vote share in the 2016 election and a county government’s dissemination of COVID-19 information on their websites. On average, the results indicated that citizens in predominately Republican counties have less opportunity to acquire information and knowledge about the virus on official local government websites.

Dr. Hansen and Ph.D. candidate Isabelle Johansson, along with Parkside team members Kalie Sadowski, Joseph Blaszcynski, and Sarah Meyer, investigated the correlation between a county’s publication of COVID-19 information on government websites and the county’s partisanship. 

According to the research article published in the Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique, local government websites were studied for a number of reasons, most importantly because “county governments have an obvious incentive to reduce the spread of the disease, one would expect that county governments would make a similar active attempt to educate their citizens on how to stay safe.”

In order to determine the mass partisanship of a county, the team used Hillary Clinton’s 2016 county vote share, which can be obtained from states’ election commission websites. When asked about the project, Dr. Hansen said “I created this project so that students could gain the research assistant experience. In addition, I believe that including students in the research process gives them a larger stake in their education, as well as valuable tools for future career success.”

In this study, the team reviewed every county website in the U.S. (3,082 counties) for mention of COVID-19 using website search functions, recording any mention of COVID-19, such as the mention of COVID being the reason for a government building being closed.

In addition to the mention of COVID-19, the team further records whether the county website shares information on how to stay safe during the pandemic or provides an external link to guidelines on staying safe.

Figure 1

As seen in Figure 1, the study found that of the 3,082 county governments in the U.S., 25.5 percent of the websites did not mention COVID-19 at all and, more surprisingly, 39 percent of county websites did not provide any information on, or link to, safety precautions in regards to the virus (5.1 percent of county governments did not have an official website).

In addition to these results, the study found that there is a positive relationship between the amount of COVID-19 cases in a county and whether a county government website mentions COVID-19 and provides safety information.

To read the entire research article, please visit the Canadian Journal of Political Science website, the Cambridge Coronavirus Collection: The Partisan Impact on Local Government Dissemination of COVID-19 Information: Assessing U.S. County Government Websites. To see more about the role students played in the research, visit the UW-Parkside Politics, Philosophy, and Law website.

Media Contact:

Dr. Michael Hansen
Assistant Professor
Politics, Philosophy and Law
College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies
University of Wisconsin-Parkside

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