The Trade off Between Health Measures and Liberal Norms

The Trade off Between Health Measures and Liberal Norms

CATHERINE DE VRIES INVESTIGATES HOW MUCH WE ARE WILLING TO GIVE UP IN ORDER TO FIGHT THE VIRUS

Governments in Europe have experienced a short-term bump in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as people initially unite behind their leaders. But to what extent could this desire for government action eventually threaten liberal democratic norms? Two recent papers shed light on how the coronavirus health emergency interacts with liberal political practices. In “How Italy’s Coronavirus Lockdown Affected Government Support in other European Countries”, Catherine De Vries (Bocconi University), Bert Bakker (University of Amsterdam), Sara Hobolt (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Kevin Arceneaux (Temple University) make it clear that people in France, Germany, Poland and Spain rallied around their governments when the lockdown began, says Catherine De Vries, Full Professor at Bocconi’s Department of Social and Political Sciences and Fellow of the COVID Crisis Lab.
 
Yet steps like restricting public gatherings, closing borders and curtailing individuals’ movement to contain the spread of the virus are in danger of eroding liberal democratic institutions. In the paper “COVID-19 and the Threat to Liberal Democratic Norms”, De Vries, Hobolt, Arceneaux and Bakker try to answer the question “how much are you willing to give up in terms of your freedoms to flatten the curve?”  The team ran an experiment online asking people in the US and the UK to choose between two sets of policy proposals they prefer for a lockdown. Should social distancing be mandatory or voluntary? Is postal voting ok? What about postponing elections? Can protests be prohibited?
 
In the US and the UK, people are in support of liberal values, “but there is definitely a tension,” says De Vries. “People are very outcome-focused and they want to stop the virus. That makes them support some things that we as political scientists see as liberal rights built up over the years. Clearly what is not popular is to have no health restrictions at all. But illiberal methods, like indefinitely postponing elections, are not popular either. So what we are seeing is kind of in the middle.”

by Jennifer Clark
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