March 31, 2021 from 10am-12pm (MST)

Who is to blame? How political polarization distorts governmental accountability during the COVID-19 pandemic

Democracy requires that citizens hold their representatives accountable for their actions – but it is not always easy to know which level of government is to blame. Amid the decentralized response to the spread of COVID-19, public health measures varied widely across American cities and states—sometimes coming from Governors, sometimes from Mayors, and sometimes not at all. With scarce information about which level of government enforces local restrictions, we expect that most Americans rely instead on party attachments as they evaluate the governmental response to COVID-19. To test our theories, we administered a survey to 800 adults from approximately as many cities and towns across America. We find that, 9 months into the pandemic, Americans have no clear sense of which level of government is responsible for preventative measures in their local communities. As Americans grow more opposed to the policies in their communities, they instead become more likely to blame whichever level of government that is aligned with the out-party. These patterns are most pronounced among Democrats and Republicans who hold the most animosity toward the out-party. Overall, our data show that citizens attribute credit and blame on governmental partisanship, not their actual policy portfolio. This suggests that when polarization collides with de-centralized policy-making, democratic accountability becomes increasingly difficult to sustain.



Dr. Samara Klar is an Associate Professor at the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy. She studies how individuals’ personal identities and social surroundings influence their political attitudes and behavior. Most often, she uses experimental methods (in and outside the lab), surveys, and other statistical tools. Dr. Klar received her PhD in Political Science from Northwestern University and also hold degrees in political science from Columbia University and McGill University.


Her book, Independent Politics, (co-authored with Yanna Krupnikov) was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016 and her research appears in lots of different journals in political science, including the American Journal of Political Science, The Journal of Politics, Political Psychology, Public Opinion Quarterly, and many others. This work has received several different awards from the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association, and the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Dr. Klar’s research is supported by awards and grants from the National Science Foundation, Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences, the Social Science Research Council, and other organizations.  She founded the website, which promotes work by women in political science and she has provided expert consulting on public opinion and political communication.