Hart J (2021) Did the COVID-19 pandemic help or hurt Donald Trump’s political fortunes? PLoS ONE 16(2): e0247664. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0247664
This study examined whether the COVID-19 pandemic influenced support for then-President Donald Trump in the early weeks of the crisis. In the study, American participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In the experimental condition, participants were reminded of the pandemic with a series of questions asking about how concerned they were about it, and then asked about their support for Trump. In the control condition, participants were asked about the pandemic after being asked about their Trump support. The results suggested that having the pandemic actively in mind slightly decreased Democrats' support for Trump. Among Republicans, the results were more complex and depended on (a) how concerned Republican respondents reported being about the pandemic, and (b) the timeline. Specifically, highly concerned Republicans were more supportive of the president in the early days of the pandemic. However, after a few months, they became less supportive (relative to their non-concerned counterparts). The study is inconclusive on the question of whether the pandemic had anything to do with election results, but it provides a model for how to study the influence of large-scale events on support for political leaders.