We Have It Totally Under Control? Exploring the Effects of Ideology and Knowing Someone Diagnosed With COVID-19 on Evaluations of President Trump’s Leadership on the Pandemic

Date01 January 2022
Published date01 January 2022
AuthorLaine P. Shay,Jason S. Byers
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 50(1) 83 –96
American Politics Research
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X211041319
“I think we’ve done a fantastic job.”
—President Donald J. Trump1
On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump declared a
national emergency due to the 2019 to 2020 coronavirus pan-
demic (Restuccia et al., 2020). To help manage the pandemic,
President Trump took various steps to slow the spread of the
virus. For example, in January 2020, President Trump imple-
mented restrictions on individuals traveling from China to
the United States (Leary & Abbott, 2020). Shortly thereafter,
he established the Coronavirus Task Force, which was
headed by Vice President Mike Pence, and it included promi-
nent individuals such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr.
Robert R. Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention; Dr. Deborah Birx, Coordinator of
the White House Coronavirus Response Task Force; and Dr.
Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General.2 In an effort to save
the economy, President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus
bill, the largest in U.S. history, designed to help individuals,
small businesses, big corporations, and the health industry
(Snell, 2020).
While some of President Trump’s policies were bold and
necessary, several of his decisions related to COVID-19 have
been met with mixed reactions. For instance, some argue that
the president downplayed the pandemic at a campaign rally
in South Carolina by saying that the Democrat’s criticism of
his response was a “hoax,” and he likened COVID-19 to the
common flu (Dale, 2020). Critics of the Trump administra-
tion have also asserted that he should have done more to
protect communities of color who have been disproportion-
ately affected by the pandemic (Soifer, 2020). Finally,
President Trump made the unprecedented move of attempt-
ing to withdraw the United States from the World Health
Organization (Hinshaw & Armour, 2020).3 The New York
Times Editorial Board (2020) unleashed a stinging cri-
tique of this brash move by describing it as a “terrible
solution” to the pandemic.
Given that the pandemic resulted in President Trump pur-
suing policies that have never been considered before, one
question of clear importance is related to how the public
1041319APRXXX10.1177/1532673X211041319American Politics ResearchByers and Shay
1Davidson College, Davidson, NC, USA
2Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Laine P. Shay, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, 6300 Ocean Drive,
Corpus Christi, TX 78412-5815, USA.
Email: laine.shay@tamucc.edu
We Have It Totally Under Control?
Exploring the Effects of Ideology and
Knowing Someone Diagnosed With
COVID-19 on Evaluations of President
Trump’s Leadership on the Pandemic
Jason S. Byers1 and Laine P. Shay2
President Donald Trump has made various decisions, many controversial, to manage the coronavirus pandemic. The reaction
to President Trump’s leadership has been met with a mixed response from the public. This raises an important question;
what factors influence a citizen’s evaluation of President Trump’s response to the pandemic? We develop a theory that
links a citizen knowing someone diagnosed with COVID-19 with their evaluation of President Trump’s management of the
pandemic, with the expectation that this relationship is conditioned by a citizen’s ideology. Using data from two surveys,
we find that knowing someone diagnosed with COVID-19 diminishes the effect ideology has on a citizen’s evaluation.
Additionally, we find that a citizen’s evaluation of President Trump’s leadership on COVID-19 is associated with their vote
choice in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Overall, this article contributes to our understanding of public opinion on
COVID-19 and its political ramifications.
American politics, health policy, public opinion, COVID-19, ideology

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