The Impact of Coronavirus on People's Political Behavior

Mikhail M. Brichkalevich
MGIMO School of Governance and Politics;

Philipp D. Tereshin
MGIMO School of Governance and Politics;


Recently, there has been an increasing interest in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different spheres of human life. Humanity, faced with an unexpected and global challenge of the spread of coronavirus, found itself in an unusual situation of uncertainty and closeness, which affected the lives of many. The article examines the impact of coronavirus on people's political behavior and the contribution of media sources to shaping public opinion on issues related to the pandemic. The research is based on the methods of comparative analysis, applied to analyze the influence of political events on people’s behavior and logical analysis, which contributes to a deeper understanding of the problems already existing in society. Since the issue under consideration cannot be viewed exclusively from a political point of view, the systems analysis is used to provide a full and comprehensive view through the prism of different disciplines. The article finds that the pandemic has created unique conditions for manipulating people's consciousness and behavior and has increased people's ability to consume more information. This increase in the consumption of the media is predetermined by their desire to learn more about government decisions concerning the current situation and the actions people are expected to take. The article concludes, the pandemic has provoked increasing public interest in politics and has led to the rise of various political movements across the globe.

Key words: coronavirus, Covid-19, BLM, Belarus protests, media, political behavior, self-isolation, stress, political participation


Today the Media is one of the main channels of influence on people's political behavior. Therefore, to assess the impact of the coronavirus on political behavior it is worth turning to the analysis of the media, which is based on two recent studies, provided by the V.M. Bekhterev National Medical Center of Psychiatry and Neurology, which involved the participation of 1997 respondents (Sorokin M.Yu., Kasyanov E.D., Rukavishnikov G.V., Makarevich O.V., Neznanov N.G., Lutova N.B., Maso G.E.2020). The results of the research indicate that such factors wearing masks, using antiseptics and keeping social distance negatively affected the psychological state of a person. Also, the level of psychological stress was higher among citizens who searched news about the coronavirus more than once or twice a day. The frequency of requests for information about the pandemic was non-linearly related to fear for one's own life, which caused stress. However, apart from threatening lives, the coronavirus has become a trigger for many political movements, creating risks for all spheres of human life. Humanity has found itself in an unusual position of insecurity and closeness. The usual way of life, meetings with friends, the workflow, the organization of business events and other regular events have changed. All this cannot pass without a trace, causing changes in the way state and business structures operate.

Analysis of the impact of the pandemic on people’s political behavior

Analyzing political broadcasts, considering the ratings of the first channel, it is possible to identify a pattern of increasing interest in global news. People turned to be more interested in external policy rather than internal, the content of news programs also changed, focusing more on local events. The broadcasts became more emotional and brighter, the subtext and calls for social self-awareness, through spreading fear, were more clearly visible. At the same time, the amount of time that people spent on the Internet and watching TV increased significantly. Thus, the consumption of various news resources and the involvement of people in politics increased. A larger number of people who previously belonged to an apolitical group became increasingly involved in politics and those politically engaged became more emotionally engaged in politics. Thus, political issues received more attention and emotional response from the population.

For this research it is necessary to define political behavior, which is a form of participation of an individual, a social community of people in the exercise of political power and the protection of their political interests. There are two main types of political behavior: political action and political inaction. The political behavior of an individual is conditioned by many factors.

Subjective factors are a set of political knowledge, ideas and other components of the spiritual world that determine the subject's own position, and ability to choose a political line of action or inaction. Objective factors are externally specified factors: the political organization to which the person belongs, the position it holds, etc (Severyukhina Darya Dmitrievna (2017)). The pandemic can be attributed to latent factors of political behavior as it has a strong influence on both objective and subjective factors.

The impact of the pandemic on political and psychological processes cannot be unequivocally assessed. On the one hand, people, understanding the complexity of the situation, should welcome anti-coronavirus measures, but there is still a lot of resistance to them even among the populations of developed countries.  In America, for instance, despite the highest incidence rate in the world and the steps taken by the government to reduce the number of cases, numerous pogroms established by the BLM movement took place. Protests scattered across the country, provoking other social movements such as BLM to become more active. Such actions carry multiple social and economic risks (Pologova Ksenia Vitalievna 2020). The activation of the BLM movement and increasing number of people protesting against quarantine measures prove the influence of political communication on people's consciousness during the pandemic.

The Black Lives Matter movement is an unstable and extraordinary movement against police brutality and in support of the rights of the black population in the USA. George Floyd is not the founding case for the BLM and the BLM has existed since 2013 (the negative opinion about BLM was more prevalent before George Floyd case), but the movement has gained such popularity only in times of the pandemic. There have been many similar cases of unarmed African Americans killed by law enforcement officers, some even more shocking, such as the killing of Tamir Rice (12 year-old boy with a toy gun shot by police), but despite all that, the killing of George Floyd turned this movement into a political one. An L.A.-based analytics and digital rights management firm, Pex, has found that 80% of the 100 most-viewed videos on Twitter in the 12 days following George Floyd's death were related to “Black Lives Matter”. The other 10% was related to race or racism more broadly Sam Blake (2020). Considering this data, it is clear that the attention to the killing of George Floyd was greater than usual, which can be explained by pent-up anxiety and increased free time due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that more people had time to watch the video and participate in the protests.

The consideration of political communication should begin with the name of the movement "Black Lives Matter''. It is a morbial metaphor that simultaneously hides and reveals a certain linguistic world built on the basis of the linguistic characteristics of society. The metaphor that is the name of this movement refers to metaphors associated with the disease. Since racism is a disease of society and is presented as such with the help of a more obvious metaphor often used on the pages of The Seattle Times: "racism is disease". In general, racism in the United States is associated with an almost innate systemic disease that exists in American society and political institutions. The causative agent of this disease, from the point of view of American journalists, is apolitical representatives of the white population of the United States (Galeeva Tatiana Ilyinichna, Kaziakhmedova Svetlana Khanmagomedovna, & Bogatyreva Svetlana Nikolaevna 2016).

There is even a separate slogan used in the BLM movement "white silence is violence"(Robby Soave 2020), implying that the white population has only one way – it is to support the movement, because neutrality or skepticism is also violence.

If one truly believes the message of the BLM, that the system in the USA is egregiously biased against black people, then it is natural to rise up and stand up to injustice, which justifies the behavior of the protestors and the strong reaction from the population. But how much of that is the case, it is not clear and there is much debate over the extent of injustice and racism in the US against minorities, especially black people. However, to make people unquestionably believe something, one needs to convince them. That’s where coronavirus comes in, as it keeps more people home and they have more free time, they watch more media and considering the fact, that news has become more sensational during the pandemic, it makes the general public belief that the BLM cause is legit and American law enforcement is a horrible institution of oppression. When more and more police violence is shown by the media, it is not hard to believe that the system is biased against white people. This, however, is not necessarily the case, or at the very least exaggerated. Constant showing of police killings of black people creates a false narrative about the size of the actual problem. “Chinese robber fallacy” can be used to explain how media broadcasting these events creates a false belief among the people.

Another case of political communication that can be considered is the situation with protests in Belarus. It is necessary to record the significant impact of the pandemic on protests. The pandemic to a certain extent undermined the credibility of the authorities, due to mediocre anti-coronavirus measures in comparison with other states, thus it contributed to the growth of opposition and protest potential. Recently the consumption of media content has increased and at the same time telegram channels and Internet resources, which are mostly oppositional, have become more active. The main problem, from the point of view of political communication, is the unwillingness of the Belarusian authorities to counteract multiple anonymous news media. One of these, and perhaps the most popular, was the Telegram channel “Nexta", which broadcasts an extremely negative image of the Belarusian government from the point of view of foreign and domestic policy. The factors that have increased the tension include the suspension of several candidates from participating in the elections, and the coronavirus pandemic. If the first factor was eliminated with the help of Lukashenka's speeches to the workers on August 17, 2020, the pandemic and its effects has remained. Almost all the protests were supervised through social networks, there were published points for gathering citizens and a strategy for the actions of the protesters. Also, thanks to the Telegram messenger, protest activity was united and they were able to organize a single information flow, which created a mass effect in the eyes of readers. (E.V. Brodovskaya and A.Yu Dobrovitskaya) characterized such a method of information dissemination as an opposition-mobilization model of information. Namely, there is a direct link between the activity of protesters and the abundance of content in the communication environment. According to the research K.I. in the first week of the protests, about 10509 posts were published in the opposition channels of the Telegram messenger, and then, the protests began to end. Also, the protests were cyclical, depending on the number of posts on different days of the week – on Sunday, the peak and then the fall until Saturday.

The findings of the research

The article finds that the pandemic has become a factor of significant changes in various spheres of public life, triggering some social movements in various parts of the world. The results of the research indicate that increased media consumption intensified the BLM movement in the USA and provoke new political protests in Belarus. The article proves that all this was and is accompanied by the news agenda that has gained great importance and political communication in various manifestations. The article proves that people are to a greater extent vulnerable to manipulation by news agencies and their hold on people’s political behavior.


The consequences of the pandemic are already strongly felt, but a much more dangerous part of them has not yet shown its potential, which poses a great threat to society and the world order.

 The findings of the article open a new perspective to studying the influence of emergency situations such as the current pandemic on the activation of various movements across the globe, to enable people to prevent in the future damaging consequences of such movements and to develop an optimal strategy for communication and interaction with them. The article also shows how media can influence people’s behavior and the extent to which the perception of the world affairs is shaped by the news agenda. News agencies can use their power to influence people and develop attitude polarization and confirmation bias among their viewers.


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  6.   Ethan Huff (2020) White silence is violence, but black violence is peace?
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