How national leaders keep 'us' safe: A longitudinal, four-nation study exploring the role of identity leadership as a predictor of adherence to COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical interventions

Svenja B. Frenzel*, S. Alexander Haslam, Nina M. Junker, Aidos Bolatov, Valerie A. Erkens, Jan A. Häusser, Ronit Kark, Ines Meyer, Andreas Mojzisch, Lucas Monzani, Stephen D. Reicher, Adil Samekin, Sebastian C. Schuh, Niklas K. Steffens, Liliya Sultanova, Dina Van Dijk, Llewellyn E. van Zyl, Rolf van Dick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether citizens' adherence to health-protective non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) during the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted by identity leadership, wherein leaders are perceived to create a sense of shared national identity. DESIGN: Observational two-wave study. Hypotheses testing was conducted with structural equation modelling. SETTING: Data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic in China, Germany, Israel and the USA in April/May 2020 and four weeks later. PARTICIPANTS: Adults in China (n=548, 66.6% women), Germany (n=182, 78% women), Israel (n=198, 51.0% women) and the USA (n=108, 58.3% women). MEASURES: Identity leadership (assessed by the four-item Identity Leadership Inventory Short-Form) at Time 1, perceived shared national identification (PSNI; assessed with four items) and adherence to health-protective NPIs (assessed with 10 items that describe different health-protective interventions; for example, wearing face masks) at Time 2. RESULTS: Identity leadership was positively associated with PSNI (95% CI 0.11 to 0.30, p<0.001) in all countries. This, in turn, was related to more adherence to health-protective NPIs in all countries (95% CI 0.03 to 0.36, 0.001≤p≤0.017) except Israel (95% CI -0.03 to 0.27, p=0.119). In Germany, the more people saw Chancellor Merkel as engaging in identity leadership, the more they adhered to health-protective NPIs (95% CI 0.04 to 0.18, p=0.002). In the USA, in contrast, the more people perceived President Trump as engaging in identity leadership, the less they adhered to health-protective NPIs (95% CI -0.17 to -0.04, p=0.002). CONCLUSIONS: National leaders can make a difference by promoting a sense of shared identity among their citizens because people are more inclined to follow health-protective NPIs to the extent that they feel part of a united 'us'. However, the content of identity leadership (perceptions of what it means to be a nation's citizen) is essential, because this can also encourage people to disregard such recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e054980
JournalBMJ open
Volume12
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Health policy
  • Public health

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