Is health politically irrelevant? Experimental evidence during a global pandemic.BMJ Glob Health. 2020 10; 5(10)BG
To investigate how health issues affect voting behaviour by considering the COVID-19 pandemic, which offers a unique opportunity to examine this interplay.
We employ a survey experiment in which treatment groups are exposed to key facts about the pandemic, followed by questions intended to elicit attitudes toward the incumbent party and government responsibility for the pandemic.
The survey was conducted amid the lockdown period of 15-26 April 2020 in three large democratic countries with the common governing language of English: India, the United Kingdom and the United States. Due to limitations on travel and recruitment, subjects were recruited through the M-Turk internet platform and the survey was administered entirely online. Respondents numbered 3648.
Our expectation was that respondents in the treatment groups would favour, or disfavour, the incumbent and assign blame to government for the pandemic compared with the control group. We observe no such results. Several reasons may be adduced for this null finding. One reason could be that public health is not viewed as a political issue. However, people do think health is an important policy area (>85% agree) and that government has some responsibility for health (>90% agree). Another reason could be that people view public health policies through partisan lenses, which means that health is largely endogenous, and yet we find little evidence of polarisation in our data. Alternatively, it could be that the global nature of the pandemic inoculated politicians from blame and yet a majority of people do think the government is to blame for the spread of the pandemic (~50% agree).
While we cannot precisely determine the mechanisms at work, the null findings contained in this study suggest that politicians are unlikely to be punished or rewarded for their failures or successes in managing COVID-19 in the next election.
Initial research hypotheses centred on expected variation between two treatments, as set forth in a detailed pre-analysis plan, registered at E-Gap: http://egap.org/registration/6645. Finding no difference between the treatments, we decided to focus this paper on the treatment/control comparison. Importantly, results that follow the pre-analysis plan strictly are entirely consistent with results presented here: null findings obtained throughout.