Research in American foreign policy holds that the public’s support for war significantly depends on the number of US casualties in the conflict. While a pandemic is clearly not a war, many observers characterized the COVID-19 pandemic using the metaphor of wartime. Has the American public’s response to pandemic-related casualties followed similar patterns to those found in the literature on public opinion and war? In this study, we assess the public’s responsiveness to COVID-19 casualties at different stages in the pandemic. Utilizing two large, 50-state surveys conducted during the two largest COVID surges, we test several hypotheses from the public opinion and war literature, including that proximity – spatial and temporal – influences public responses and that the public becomes desensitized to casualties over time. We find that in many respects, the public’s response to the pandemic does indeed mirror the patterns found by scholars studying public opinion and war.
Pandemic, Governors, and Public Opinion: The Effect of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths on Public Support for America’s Governors