Anna Amirkhanyan, American University – An International Experimental Study of Citizens Perceptions of Government Responses to COVID-19

Lockdowns during COVID-19 have been handled differently by governments around the world.

Anna Amirkhanyan, professor of public administration and policy at American University, explores the effect on different populations.

Anna Amirkhanyan is a professor of public administration and policy at American University. Her research focuses on public and nonprofit management, organizational performance, public-private differences, and citizen participation. Her book, Citizen Participation in the Age of Contracting: When Service Delivery Trumps Democracy (Routledge, 2018) offers an account of how contracting of public services has come at the cost of transparency and participation.  Her articles have appeared in peer-reviewed outlets that include the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (J-PART), Public Administration Review, the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, and others.

An International Experimental Study of Citizens Perceptions of Government Responses to COVID-19

The recent global pandemic forced many governments around the world to enact policies that prevented the transmission of the virus, but also restricted individual civil liberties. How people perceive such policies might influence their cooperation and resistance to policy implementation. Several psychological and political theories suggest that dramatic events often generate the “rallying-round-the-flag” phenomenon – a significant increase in public support of government. To investigate if these theories hold true for the COVID-19 restrictions, my colleagues and I conducted a survey experiment involving 7,000 people across eight democratic nations. We explored how COVID-19 restrictions influenced people’s perceptions of the effectiveness of government.

Our experiment found that, in all 8 countries, restrictive policies in fact lowered citizens’ perceptions of government effectiveness. Compared to other nations, respondents from the US and UK placed the lowest value on the policies affording greater individual freedoms. German citizens, in contrast, placed the highest value on the less restrictive responses.  Aside from policy restrictiveness, we found that information from credible scientific institutions had a direct effect on how citizens evaluated government actions. These findings suggest that, while citizens may dislike and resist public policies that limit individual freedoms, public actors can leverage their expertise in informing and educating the public and promoting responsible self-regulation during public health crises.

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