Crisis Signaling: How Italy's Coronavirus Lockdown Affected Incumbent Support in Other European Countries
32 Pages Posted: 21 May 2020 Last revised: 30 Sep 2020
Date Written: May 20, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unparalleled global crisis. Yet, despite the grave adversity faced by citizens, incumbents around the world experienced a boost in popularity during the onset of the outbreak. In this study, we examine how the response to the COVID-19 outbreak in one country has affected incumbent support in other countries. Specifically, we leverage the fact that the first country-wide lockdown on European soil, in Italy on March 9, 2020, happened during the fieldwork of online surveys conducted in four other European countries, France, Germany, Poland and Spain. This allows us to examine how an event abroad that alerted citizens to an imminent crisis – prior to a similar domestic government response – nonetheless influenced incumbent support. Our results suggest a crisis signal effect of Italy's COVID-19 lockdown, as support for the incumbent increased in other European countries after the Italian lockdown. Importantly, these findings suggest that incumbents can benefit from a crisis, even when their own performance in response to the crisis is not yet fully clear. As such our findings cast some doubt on the assumption underlying classic models of accountability that ordinary citizens can disentangle performance signals from exogenous shocks, i.e. events largely outside of the control of incumbents.
Keywords: COVID-19, Incumbent Support, Lockdown
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