the shadow pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic

is dramatically remaking social relations.  Often, disasters tend to enhance community solidarity, but during the pandemic, social cohesion, trust, and connectedness have all declined. This project utilizes the COVID-19 Social Change Survey (CSCS), a currently-fielded panel survey, administered to 8,000 Americans in six waves, beginning in early March, 2020. 

CSCS is the largest nationally-representative panel survey of the social, political, and cultural consequences of COVID-19 in the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic is quickly making broad changes to society and upending ways of life across the globe.  Questions of public health behavior adoption, economic hardship, and political upheaval have underscored the social nature of the pandemic.  The ongoing nature of COVID, and the rise of SARS, MERS, and H1N1, underline the need to understand these phenomena – not just the epidemiology of pandemics, but the effective social policies and practices that create positive behaviors and mitigate harms.  While the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health problem, it is also a social problem, as public adoption of advised public health behaviors relies on an interplay of public policy, social communication, and public attitude.  Policy makers must devise responses, information and urgency must be expressed to the public, and individual attitudes and behaviors must change.

One of the key features of the COVID-19 pandemic was that it created the need for a fast-moving, engaged, and responsive citizenry.  Effective societal response relied on a nimble political order that could absorb information and create, enact, and administer responsive policy.  But effective response also required people be knowledgeable, active, and engaged in their communities and in political life – in other words, “good citizens” of an informed society. 

early results

  • While many disasters increase social solidarity, COVID has reduced social solidarity over time.
  • We are also less patriotic now than at the start of the pandemic.
  • While we were originally supportive of state action to curb the pandemic, that support declined quickly.
  • We have less trust in a broad array of social institutions.
  • We have less trust in our neighbors and are less likely to help each other.

This project seeks to understand the causes of these declining social bonds, and how we might recover as a people and a nation.

You can explore the data at

Also, check out this special issue with the Russell Sage Foundation, co-edited with Laurel Harbridge-YongRachel Davis Mersey:

The Social and Political Impact of COVID-19 in the United States 

Tabitha Bonilla, Assistant Professor, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern

Rachel Davis Mersey is Associate Dean for Research, University of Texas at Austin

Laurel Harbridge-Yong, Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern

Christine Percheski, Associate Professor of Sociology, Northwestern

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation RAPID program, the NSF Sociology program, the Peterson Foundation

It is part of the NSF CONVERGE project; the National Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure, and; the Social Science Extreme Events Research Program

CSCS drew 63 media mentions for a reach of 7.9 million views. Top mentions include The New York Times, The Atlantic (2), The Guardian, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and ABC News.

You can explore the data at