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Crisis signaling: how Italy's coronavirus lockdown affected incumbent support in other European countries

Catherine E. De Vries, Bert N. Bakker, Sara B. Hobolt and Kevin Arceneaux

Political Science Research and Methods, 2021, vol. 9, issue 3, 451-467

Abstract: 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 affected incumbent support in other countries. Specifically, we leverage the fact that the first country-wide lockdown on European soil, in Italy on 9 March 2020, happened during the fieldwork of 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—influenced incumbent support. Our results indicate a crisis signal effect of Italy's COVID-19 lockdown, as support for the incumbent increased domestically in other European countries after the lockdown. Importantly, these findings suggest that incumbents can benefit from a crisis unfolding in other countries, even when their own performance in response to the same crisis is not yet fully clear. They illustrate the importance of developments abroad for incumbent approval and the difficulty facing citizens seeking to disentangle performance signals from exogenous shocks.

Date: 2021
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