Leaders are normally held accountable for economic outcomes. Yet accountability for the economy may weaken when other issues compete for the public’s attention. I posit that during the COVID-19 crisis, the public paid less attention to how leaders managed the economy and focused instead on how they managed the disease. I test this hypothesis using a time-series dataset of gubernatorial approval in 46 states based on 10,000 measures of governor popularity. While governor approval was strongly correlated with unemployment levels before COVID-19, governors were not punished for increasing unemployment during the crisis. Instead, governors were rewarded for enacting stringent policies early and then were held accountable for preventing COVID-19 deaths. Individual-level data shows, however, that Republicans diverged from the rest of the public and did not hold governors accountable for lockdown policies or for death rates. The results show the public’s issue agenda is not constant.
Crowding out the Economy: Coronavirus and Governor Approval
14 April 2022, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.