Support for Constitutional Rights During Crisis: Evidence from the Pandemic

American Journal of Comparative Law (2024)

95 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2023 Last revised: 26 Jan 2024

See all articles by Adam Chilton

Adam Chilton

University of Chicago - Law School

Kevin L. Cope

University of Virginia School of Law

Charles Crabtree

University of Michigan - Political Science, Students

Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: June 1, 2023

Abstract

During times of crisis, governments often consider policies that may promote safety, but that would require overstepping constitutionally protected rights. These policies are frequently adopted by the executive, permitted by the courts and legislative branches, and appear to be supported by the public. But it is not apparent whether the public is less supportive of these policies than they would otherwise be because of these constitutional rules.

We leveraged the COVID-19 pandemic’s unprecedented global threat to study whether, in the face of an emergency, people are willing to moderate their policy views because of constitutional considerations. We fielded survey experiments in the first weeks of the pandemic to nationally representative samples in six geographically and politically diverse countries: the United States, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. The surveys tested whether our combined sample of over 11,600 respondents supported a series of potential liberty-restricting pandemic mitigation policies. We randomly manipulated whether respondents were informed that legal experts believed these policies may be unconstitutional.

We found that all the liberty-restricting policies we tested were overwhelmingly supported by the respondents from all six countries, and that being told that experts believe the policies are unconstitutional only reduced support for a few of the most extreme policies in just three countries. The county where the constitution had the most impact was Israel, which was under an active lockdown when our survey was conducted. We also found that being told that experts believe the policies are unconstitutional increased support for several of the policies in China, and there is weak evidence that it may have done so in Taiwan as well. Taken together, the results suggest that, during emergencies, constitutional considerations may do little to create public pressure to constrain governments.

Keywords: COVID-19, Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law, Public Opinion

Suggested Citation

Chilton, Adam and Cope, Kevin L. and Crabtree, Charles and Versteeg, Mila, Support for Constitutional Rights During Crisis: Evidence from the Pandemic (June 1, 2023). American Journal of Comparative Law (2024), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3591270 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3591270

Adam Chilton (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.adamchilton.org

Kevin L. Cope

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
WB345
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Charles Crabtree

University of Michigan - Political Science, Students ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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