Context: Reductions in population mobility can mitigate COVID-19 virus transmission and disease-related mortality. But do social distancing policies actually change population behavior and, if so, what factors condition policy effects?
Methods: We leverage subnational variation in the stringency and timing of state-issued social distancing policies to test their effects on mobility across 109 states in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. We also explore how conventional predictors of compliance, including political trust, socioeconomic resources, health risks, and partisanship, modify these policy effects.
Findings: In Brazil and the United States, stay-at-home orders and workplace closures reduced mobility, especially early in the pandemic. In Mexico, where federal intervention created greater policy uniformity, workplace closures produced the most consistent mobility reductions. Conventional explanations of compliance perform well in the United States but not in Brazil or Mexico, apart from those emphasizing socioeconomic resources.
Conclusions: In addition to new directions for research on the politics of compliance, the article offers insights for policy makers on which measures are likely to elicit compliance. Our finding that workplace closure effectiveness increases with socioeconomic development suggests that cash transfers, stimulus packages, and other policies that mitigate the financial burdens of the pandemic may help reduce population mobility.