March 10, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 101—Travel, and QAnon

With spring right around the corner and more people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, many people are starting to think about traveling. Indiana University professors Evan Jordan and Becky Liu-Lastres say taking a vacation is especially important during the pandemic because of all of the additional stress and anxiety people have faced in the last year. And as long as people observe normal safety precautions, they say a vacation can be good for your physical and mental wellbeing. But vigilance is still needed to make sure you vacation safely. When choosing to travel, Liu-Lastres says a traveler’s perceived risk is influenced by multiple factors, such as their personal experiences, travel history, knowledge about the issue and the perceived threat of COVID-19. Normally, people tend to avoid risky situations, and therefore, they may choose not to take a vacation now due to a high-level of perceived risk. However, perceived risk is not the only factor here. Most of the time, even though potential tourists assume a relatively high level of perceived risk, self-protective measures such as social distancing and getting vaccinated, as well as their confidence in the industry’s safety measures, can result in a strong belief in their capability of protecting themselves, which reduces their anxiety and leads to a decision to travel. Jordan says people thinking of traveling should still follow safety precautions such as wearing a mask, especially when you are in close contact with people outside of your social bubble. When choosing where to go, Jordan says look for a place you can be outdoors in well-ventilated areas such as going to the beach, going for a hike in the woods and having a picnic in the park. If you choose to engage in indoor activities like eating out at a restaurant, Jordan says to wear your mask as much as possible and practice safe distancing. In addition to helping boost mental health, travel is also essential to boosting the economy. The tourist income brings in revenue for local businesses, creates more employment opportunities, and contributes to the local and federal taxes, Liu-Lastres says. Besides the economic impact, the incoming tourists also bring hope, signifying the market's recovery and instilling confidence in the local businesses.

In other news, the U.S. presidential election is over, but QAnon, the internet conspiracy theory closely associated with ex-president Donald Trump, continues to make headlines. But James Shanahan, dean of Indiana University’s Media School, says it is hard to know how many people actually believe the key tenets of QAnon’s claims. Shanahan says there has been a lot of polling about QAnon, but people’s endorsement of QAnon in polls doesn’t give the whole picture. Polls from Daily Kos, NBC News and Ipsos all found different results. A fair number of people have heard of QAnon, Shanahan says, but the number of people who think its key claims are true may have peaked in December 2020 and may now be closer to smaller pre-election levels of support. As useful as survey data is, Shanahan says it is difficult to go from that to more nuanced questions, like what portion of respondents are true believers versus which of them might act on their beliefs – and which of them are giving quick answers that seem to fit with their current thoughts or beliefs. As a result, surveys cannot replace the real forensic work that is needed to know how many QAnon “members” there really are. Important decisions are now being made about the perceived threats, but Shanahan says it’s not enough to use poll data to make these decisions. Americans need more information about the actual extent of the threats, as well as time to discuss whether proposed responses are proportional and likely to be both constitutional and effective. Needed information, he says, could come from police investigations, an independent investigative commission or other forensic work to evaluate the scope of the threat.