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.


© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2022. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/'>http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/'>http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

Cite as

Frenzel, S., Haslam, S., Junker, N., Bolatov, A., Erkens, V., Häusser, J., Kark, R., Meyer, I., Mojzisch, A., Monzani, L., Reicher, S., Samekin, A., Schuh, S., Steffens, N., Sultanova, L., Van Dijk, D., van Zyl, L. & Van Dick, R. 2022, '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', BMJ Open, 12(5), article no: e054980. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-054980

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Last updated: 15 November 2022
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