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Fear of and Affectedness by COVID-19 and Government Approval. A Longitudinal Perspective.

Government
Political Psychology
Political Sociology
Quantitative
National Perspective
Public Opinion
Policy-Making
Melanie Dietz
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Melanie Dietz
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Sigrid Roßteutscher
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Philipp Scherer
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Lars-Christopher Stövsand
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
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Abstract

The world has been holding its breath since the infectious disease COVID-19 started spreading all over the world. As an immediate reaction to the initial virus outbreak in March 2020, many Western European countries implemented a comprehensive shutdown of social life and economy. The vast majority of citizens were willing to accept strict regulations and national governments experienced a steep increase in support (Yam et al. 2020). Examining the literature, this phenomena can be attributed to the “rally ‘round the flag” effect (Mueller 1970, 1973; Lai and Reiter 2005). Due to its immediate severe and negative impact, the pandemic can be identified as a so-called ‘rally point’: The more menacing the situation appears that threatens a nation as a whole, turning to the government and its leaders – as supposedly main and strong actors able to act – for protection and guidance seems to be a most likely case. What remains is the question of what exactly is causing the steep increase in approval rates of national governments in the COVID-19 pandemic? We assume that various experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic play a crucial role in this. Experience in this case is defined as affectedness by the virus and the emotional component fear. Both constructs serve as an indicator of the extent of threat: First, COVID-19 can be a personal experience, in that oneself or one's immediate social surroundings comes into contact with the virus. Additionally, COVID-19 can also be seen as a collective experience where the occurrence of infection on an aggregate level is used as a reference point for evaluating the situation. Second, even with or without a direct encounter, the pandemic can be perceived as an abstract threat that simply activates fear. A first aim of the proposed article is therefore to examine what causes the sudden spikes in approval ratings of national governments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering that the pandemic persists and that in many countries the process of politicisation of the pandemic can already be observed, a follow up question would be to how the rally effect may shift into an evaluation of governmental performance suggesting that partisanship and partisan predisposition would again become significant indicators for government approval. How does this affect the explanatory power of the experience-based indicators affectedness and fear? The second research aim is therefore to take on a longitudinal perspective regarding government approval rates in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Choosing Germany as a case example, we take on a multilevel perspective by looking at different experiences with COVID-19 on an individual level and the rate of infections within regions (Bundesländer) and communities (Landkreise) and their impact on the assessment of the national government. For this we will use individual panel survey data from an online survey conducted in from April/May 2020 to January 2021 as part of the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES) will be merged with infection rates on different geographical levels published by the Robert Koch Institute.