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Existential insecurity and deference to authority: the pandemic as a natural experiment

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Foa, RS 
Welzel, C 


jats:secjats:titleIntroduction</jats:title>jats:pThe global coronavirus pandemic offers a quasi-experimental setting for understanding the impact of sudden exposure to heightened existential risk upon both individual and societal values.</jats:p></jats:sec>jats:secjats:titleMethods</jats:title>jats:pWe examined the effect of the pandemic on political attitudes by comparing data from eight countries surveyed before and after the worldwide spread of COVID-19 in March 2020 with continuous weekly polling tracker data from the United Kingdom from 2019 to 2021. Multilevel models were used to explore the drivers of change, and the results indicated that reported emotions of fear and stress were positively associated with institutional approval during periods of greater pathogen risk.</jats:p></jats:sec>jats:secjats:titleResults</jats:title>jats:pOur findings revealed that support for political and technocratic authority, as well as satisfaction with political institutions, rose significantly above long-term historical baselines during the pandemic.</jats:p></jats:sec>jats:secjats:titleDiscussion</jats:title>jats:pThe results support the hypothesis that exposure to existential risk results in greater support for authority and that individual feelings of insecurity may be linked to less critical citizen orientations.</jats:p></jats:sec>


Peer reviewed: True

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank Joel Rogers de Waal for his commitment to the project, and Stephan Shakespeare for providing support to the YouGov-Cambridge Centre for Public Opinion Research. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of YouGov Plc. We would also like to thank the reviewers for their comments and suggestions, and assistance in improving the manuscript. We also acknowledge support by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Open Access Publication Fund of Leuphana University Lüneburg in making the publication of this work possible.


pandemic, existential security, populism, authoritarianism, pathogen risk, COVID-19

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Frontiers in Political Science

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Frontiers Media SA