Partisanship, Policy, and Americans’ Evaluations of State-Level COVID-19 Policies Prior to the 2020 Election

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The COVID-19 pandemic was a key policy issue during the 2020 election in the United States. As such, it is important to analyze how voters evaluated government responses to the pandemic. To this end, in this article, we examine factors that influenced Americans’ evaluations of state-level COVID-19 policy responses. We find that during the pandemic onset period, Americans typically rated their state governments’ responses more favorably if their governor was a co-partisan. In contrast, during the re-opening period, we find that Democrats relied on both partisanship and policy to evaluate their state-level responses, while Republicans continued to rely solely on partisanship. We contend that given the complex policy environment surrounding COVID-19, Americans may have not been fully aware of the policies their state governments adopted, so they relied on partisan cues to help them evaluate their state-level policy responses. But by the re-opening period, Americans likely had enough time to better understand state-level policy responses; this allowed Democrats to also evaluate their state-level responses based on policy. These findings shed light on how Americans evaluated COVID-19 responses just prior to the 2020 election.