Staying home on the range: Social capital and social distancing in the Great Plains during COVID-19
Middlewood, Alexandra T.
Joslyn, Mark R.
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Middlewood, A. T., & Joslyn, M. R. (2021). Staying home on the range: Social capital and social distancing in the great plains during COVID-19. Great Plains Research, 31(2), 135-143. doi:10.1353/gpr.2021.0020
Since the spread of the COVID- 19 pandemic to the United States, citizens have been encouraged to practice social distancing, staying a minimum of six feet away from others. For many, social distancing has become a form of civic duty and expression of unity. In the classic Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam describes community- mindedness as an important pillar of social capital that promotes civic engagement. We hypothesize that citizens who exhibit higher levels of social capital are more likely to socially distance. To test the hypothesis, we utilize publicly available county- level data from Kansas (105 counties) and Nebraska (93 counties) and proxy social capital with county voter turnout from the 2016 presidential election. To gauge social distancing, we use social distancing grades as assigned by Unacast, a company specializing in mobility data. We discover social capital has a significant impact on distancing. In other words, counties with the highest levels of voter turnout produced the best social distancing grades. Furthermore, population is not a significant predictor of social distancing. A vast majority of the counties examined were in fact rural. Rural counties with high numbers of infections— largely those with oligopoly in the meatpacking industry— yield better social distancing grades than the most populated counties.
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