Public Support and Illiberal Behavior of Right-wing Populist Governments during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Master's Thesis, 2021

137 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Background: The Covid-19 Pandemic Interrupts the World
1.2 The Puzzle and Research Question
1.3 Structure of this Work

2 Theoretical Background
2.1 Public Support for Governing Parties During Covid-19
2.1.1 A Decline for Right-Wing Governing Parties
2.1.2 Current Explanations for the Trends in Public Support during Covid-19
2.2 Right-Wing Populism and Illiberal Democracy
2.2.1 Populism: A Contested Concept
2.2.2 Right-Wing Populism
2.2.3 Populism and Democracy
2.3 Public Support for Governments under the Condition of Acute Threat
2.3.1 Public Support: Concepts and Determinants
2.3.2 Public Support under Acute Threat and the Covid-19 Pandemic
2.4 Argument and Expectations
2.4.1 General Assumptions
2.4.2 Expected Behavior of Right-Wing Populist Governments during Covid-19

3 Research Design
3.1 Qualitative Case Studies & Process Tracing
3.2 Case Selection
3.3 Material Selection

4 Illiberal Behavior & Public Support before Covid-19
4.1 Czech Republic
4.1.1 The Movement of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO)
4.1.2 Authoritarian Leadership
4.1.3 Corruption
4.1.4 Discriminatory Measures
4.1.5 Trends in Public Support
4.2 Poland
4.2.1 The Law and Justice Party (PiS)
4.2.2 Authoritarian Leadership
4.2.3 Corruption
4.2.4 Discriminatory Measures
4.2.5 Trends in Public Support

5 The Covid-19 Pandemic in Czech Republic and Poland
5.1 General Patterns
5.2 State Measures: Czech Republic
5.2.1 Containment Measures
5.2.2 Economic Measures
5.3 State Measures Poland
5.3.1 Containment Measures
5.3.2 Economic Measures

6 Illiberal Behavior & Public Support during Covid-19
6.1 Illiberal Government Behavior: Czech Republic
6.1.1 Authoritarian Leadership
6.1.2 Corruption
6.1.3 Discriminatory Measures
6.2 Changes in Public Support: Czech Republic
6.2.1 General Trends
6.2.2 Causal Relations
6.3 Illiberal Government Behavior: Poland
6.3.1 Authoritarian Leadership
6.3.2 Corruption
6.3.3 Discriminatory Measures
6.4 Changes in Public Support: Poland
6.4.1 General Trends
6.4.2 Causal Relations

7 Results and Discussion
7.1 Results
7.2 Alternative Explanations
7.2.1 Pandemic Containment Measures and Infection Rates
7.2.2 Economic Development and Context Related Events
7.3 Limitations

8 Conclusion

9 Bibliography

List of Figures

Figure 1: National Poll Data for the Czech Republic

Figure 2: National Poll Data for Poland

Figure 3: COVID-19 Data Explorer

Figure 4: Infection Rates in the Czech Republic

Figure 5: Infection Rates in Poland

Figure 6: National Poll Average: Czech Republic during Covid-19

Figure 7: National Pandemic Alarm: Czech Republic

Figure 8: Process Tracing of Illiberal Behavior and Public Support in the Czech Republic

Figure 9: National Poll Average: Poland during Covid-19

Figure 10: National Pandemic Alarm: Poland

Figure 11: Trust in Politicians: Poland

Figure 12: Political Situation in Poland

Figure 13: Process Tracing of Illiberal Behavior and Public Support in Poland

List of Tables

Table 1: Electoral Support of Right-wing Populist and Non-populist Governments during Covid-19

Table 2: Characteristics of Liberal and Populist Democracy

Table 3: Characteristics of Liberal and Populist Democracy and Illiberal Behavior

Table 4: Causal Graph of Timely Sequences

Table 5: Most Popular Online News Brands in the Czech Republic and Poland

Table 6: Unemployment Rate in the Czech Republic

Table 7: Unemployment Rate in Poland

Table 8: Satisfaction with the Political Situation in the Czech Republic

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


1.1 Background: The Covid-19 Pandemic Interrupts the World

The year 2020 marked the beginning of a huge global change. On March 12 of that year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a global pandemic caused by Covid-19 virus (cf. WHO Europe 2020). In a speech, WHO's Director-General Ghebreyesus reinforced the need of every state to respond to the health crisis1 by taking emergency measures to curb the spread of the virus and to protect its citizens. Therefore, throughout 2020 and 2021, governments have undertaken various measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, such as lockdowns, restrictions on public events, gathering size, internal movement, and international travel, among others (cf. Hale et al. 2020: 4f.). While many of these measures helped to flatten the curve, at least 4 million people died from Covid- 19 by July 2021 worldwide, and nearly 168 million people were infected (WHO 2020).2 Thus, the pandemic poses an acute threat to the physical integrity of individuals and societies.

International organizations (IOs) have further denounced the negative consequences of the pandemic for the state of democracy in the world. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the condition of democracy3 and human rights has deteriorated in 75 out of 100 states, thus "exacerbating the 14 years of consecutive decline in freedom” (Repucci and Slipowitz 2020: 1-2). This is especially the case for states in which public support for populist parties and autocratic leaders4 has increased during the past decade. Since emergency situations open ways for autocratic opportunism due to the "hour of the executive” in crisis times, scholars expect democratic decline to continue and intensify during and after the health crisis (cf. Rapeli and Saikkonen 2020; Belin and De Maio 2020; Cooper and Aitchison 2020). In the European Union (EU), autocratic opportunism and illiberal behavior can be observed in several member states, most notably in Central and Eastern Europe, where many right-wing populist parties have gained governing power during the past ten years (cf. Guasti 2020). For instance, after the outbreak of the health crisis in Hungary, President Orban passed an emergency law without time limitation (cf. Hegedus 2020). In Poland, presidential elections were postponed without any legal basis, while the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis adopted Corona measures by undermining democratic processes (cf. Bustikova and Babos 2020).5

1.2 The Puzzle and Research Question

Against the backdrop of autocratic opportunism and illiberal behavior during Covid-19, there is a large debate in the field of populism and democracy research about whether populist parties and leaders are strengthened or weakened by the Covid-19 crisis (cf. Morelli 2020; Rapeli and Saikkonen; Rohner 2020; Katsambekis and Stavrakakis 2020: 6; Burni 2020a; Bayerlein and Gyongyosi 2020). However, due to the newness of the current crisis, the justification for one side or the other is based more on theoretical assumptions than on reliable empirical research, while the existing empirical studies (to the date of writing) refer exclusively to the first wave of the pandemic. These examinations often imply that populists tend to benefit from the crisis, since their approval rates either slightly increased during the first wave or remained on the same level (cf. Wondreys and Mudde 2020). However, as the second and third waves unfold in autumn 2020 and winter/spring 2021, a new picture emerges. Right-wing populist governments in Europe on average appear to be losing public support, although this is not the case in non-populist-governed EU member states.6

This phenomenon seems puzzling, since it would be more likely to expect that populist governments would gain public support through the crisis. This conclusion not only derives from the “hour of the executive”, but also to the observation that societies in times of crisis attribute a stronger leadership role to their government and express more allegiance than in ordinary times - a finding also known as the "rally-round-the-flag" effect (cf. Mueller 1970). This would help right-wing populists to present themselves as strong and decisive crisis leaders, which could strengthen their power and popularity as authoritarian leaders (cf. Enyedi 2016; Pappas 2019; Albertazzi and Mueller 2013). However, understanding public support according to David Easton as the “way in which a person evaluatively orients himself to some object through either his attitudes or his behaviour” (1975: 436), it is the specific support for right-wing populist government leaders and parties that decreases during the pandemic. Therefore, this work aims to answer the following research question:

- Why has public support for right-wing populist governments in Central and Eastern Europe decreased during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The overall hypothesis of this work is that right-wing populist characteristics of governments are expressed through illiberal behavior7, which causes a loss of public support since it stands at odds with public expectations under the condition of acute threat.8 Illiberal behavior makes the government's crisis management process to appear less open, transparent, and morally justifiable, which is what the population expects even more in times of crisis than in normal times since they are directly affected by the threat and respective government measures. While people might be more supportive in the beginning of the crisis due to the rally effect and hour of the executive, this will change during the course of the crisis, when people again start to watch the government's behavior more closely. Since the relationship between illiberal behavior by right-wing populist governments during Covid-19 and public support has not been systematically investigated yet, this thesis aims to take a first step in this direction by taking a more nuanced view to gain new empirical knowledge regarding why, when, and how a loss of public support for right-wing populist governments can be observed during the first, second, and third wave of the pandemic (cf. Croissant 2020a: 22).9

Moreover, the current Covid-19 pandemic represents a relevant conditional factor that requires additional scholarly attention. While a global pandemic has rarely been observed, it represents a case of acute (life) threat. As such, it can be transferred to similar situations, such as natural and environmental disasters - phenomena that are likely to increase due to climate and environmental changes (Moore 2021). Therefore, the research question aims to investigate the effects on public support for governments under the conditions of acute threat. In doing so, the Czech Republic and Poland have been selected as qualitative case studies. These states have managed the crisis in the first wave quite effectively (cf. Wondreys and Mudde 2020). Still, the respective governments lost much of their public support during the course of the pandemic, although they used similar containment measures as other states and eased negative economic side effects (cf. Meyer 2020).

1.3 Structure of this Work

This thesis starts with an empirical outline of public support for governments in the European Union during Covid-19, which reveals that right-wing populist governments in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have lost public support during the course of the pandemic. It will further discuss some shortcomings of current explanations on this phenomenon. After that, the central concepts and debates in populism research relevant for this thesis will be discussed in order to formulate hypothetical scenarios of illiberal behavior of right-wing populist governments during the Covid-19 pandemic. Section then briefly discusses the causes of populist parties' electoral success with a special focus on CEE. In the next chapter, current discussions on the determinants of public support for governments under situations of acute threat will be presented and complemented by recent research on Covid-19 and political trust. It will be followed by the authors' own theoretical expectations and hypotheses in Chapter 2.4. The research design will be explained in Chapter 3, including the choice for the process tracing method and justifications for the two representative cases of Poland and the Czech Republic. In the subsequent qualitative analysis (Chapters 4-6), the cases will be investigated in terms of illiberal practices and changes in public support over time. In doing so, the analysis will be divided into two time periods (before and during Covid-19) to distinguish between the effects of illiberal behavior on public support before and during the pandemic. For the comparison of illiberal behavior and public support during Covid-19, the method of process tracing will be applied to investigate the expected causal chains between March 2020 and April 2021.

After a comparison and discussion of the findings and alternative explanations in Chapter 7, the expectations of this thesis can largely be confirmed. While illiberal behavior of right-wing populist governments before the outbreak of the pandemic leads only to short-term negative fluctuations in their support, a significant negative trend emerges during the Covid-19 pandemic that can be linked to illiberal behavior. Assuming that the public interest under conditions of acute threat lies in the effective containment of the pandemic and a transparent and open process in crisis management, the illiberal behavior of the governments studied shows that public expectations are not sufficiently met. In this context, illiberal behavior appears even more as a lack of trustworthiness and care for the population, which can largely explain the decline in public support. There is a tendency for the decline to drop more sharply when the factors of authoritarian leadership, corruption, and discriminatory measures accumulate, while rising Covid-19 numbers partially tend to reinforce this trend. The results further reveal that containment measures, rising Covid-19 figures, and the economic situation alone can hardly explain these developments. Instead, people seem to rate governments as less trustworthy and caring due to their illiberal behavior. The thesis ends with concluding remarks on the research question and perspectives for future research in Chapter 8.


2.1 Public Support for Governing Parties During Covid-19

2.1.1 A Decline for Right-Wing Governing Parties

In October 2020, Wondreys and Mudde (2020) published a study of far-right parties' reactions and responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and trends in electoral support. Focusing on the first wave (March to June 2020), they found that electoral support for those parties had not declined and that right-wing populist governments in Europe had managed the crisis well. Looking at the infection and death rates in Europe, right-wing populist governments would have even performed slightly better in containing the pandemic than other governments. The authors conclude that the electoral effect resulted from the observation that the crisis was mild in the first wave and right-wing populist governments in Central and Eastern Europe acted quickly and consistently (cf. Wondreys and Mudde 2020: 13). However, they emphasize that their results are preliminary and that the second wave could have a greater electoral effect on government support. This expectation tends to be correct in light of the new data situation for electoral support during the second and third wave (see Table 1).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: Polling Averages (in %) of right-wing populist and non-populist governments (if government coalition, party with most seats in parliament was selected); own depiction (structure drawn from Wondreys and Mudde 2020: 8). Source: Europe Elects.11 See Appendix for a more detailed overview.

The average values for the electoral support of the respective parties show two relevant trends. First, they seem to confirm the initial rally effect for governments. Compared with before the pandemic (February 2020), a slight increase in electoral support of between 3 and 4 percentage points can be observed between March and June. For right-wing populist governments, electoral support is highest in March and April 2020, and for non-populist governments in May and June 2020. Thereafter, the values decline again.1011

Second, in April 2021, electoral support for non-populist government parties is back at the same level as before the pandemic; for right-wing populist governments, it is 4 percentage points lower than before. This trend manifests itself already from October and especially December 2020 and remains at a consistently lower level than before the pandemic. Even after subtracting the margin of error of one percent, there is a clear difference in electoral support for right-wing populist and non-populist governments in Europe. This difference becomes even clearer when looking at the countries individually. Of the six right-wing populist governing parties12, each one has lost electoral support; while among the non-populist governing parties, the majority has either gained approval or remained on a similar level than before the pandemic. Of the right-wing populist parties, the Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland has lost the most support, with a -7-percentage point difference, followed by Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Slovakia (all -5 percent).

2.1.2 Current Explanations for the Trends in Public Support during Covid-19

The current literature on public support during Covid-19 often points at a "strengthening" of populist parties during the crisis. In doing so, many scholars highlight the structural causes of populist support (cf. Burni 2020b; Bobba and Hube 2020; Katsambekis and Stravakis 2020). Populists should not be considered as merely “protest-parties”, but rather reflect specific levels of polarization within the socio-political context of states. This concerns cultural divides as well as economic insecurities, political distrust and perceptions of deprivation (cf. Burni 2020b: 37; Cooper and Aitchison 2020: 6). The Covid- 19 pandemic might enhance social divides as economic insecurities and inequalities grow, which can fuel support for populists (cf. Belin and de Maio 2020: 4; Cooper and Aitchison 2020: 8; Rohner 2020: 2; Guiso et al. 2020). It is further the “hour of the executive” that populist governments can exploit for autocratic practices, while making it even harder to remove them from office in the future (cf. Keilitz 2020). Populism is further fueled by crisis situations, thus creating more opportunities for populists (cf. Bobba and Hube 2020: 131; Bustikova and Babos 2020). Other authors highlight the existential threat of Covid-19 for societies, which fosters “ingroup favoritism” and a rejection of others, which might nurture preferences for right-wing authoritarianism, such as nationalism and anti-immigration (Hartman et al. 2020: 3). Roccato et al. (2020) found evidence for people's psychological shift towards strong leadership in times of acute threat for the case of Italy. Exposure to Covid-19 and perceived economic insecurity during Covid-19 enhanced anti-democratic views (Roccato et al. 2020: 8-9).

On the other side, some scholars believe that the Covid-19 pandemic will reveal a lack of competence among populist governments (cf. Morelli 2020). Populists in opposition often make lofty promises to act in the interest of the people, claiming to be morally justified to rule as the only accomplisher of the peoples' will. When they achieve government power, it will be hard to live up to their promises, which becomes even more visible during crisis that requires professional leadership and competence (cf. Morelli 2020).13 This might push away already disillusioned parts of the populists' voter base. Rapeli and Sakkonen (2020) further claim that the long-term effect for autocrats in power might be negative due to the challenging economic consequences of the pandemic (cf. Rapeli and Sakkonen 2020: 29­30). Additionally, Croissant (2020b) points at "populist” behavior in response to the crisis, such as the rejection of science as part of the "establishment” and denial and downplaying of the pandemic (cf. Croissant 2020b: 19). This might lead to an "eye-opening moment for citizens” (ibid.: 4). Newton (2020) analyzed Boris Johnson's Covid-19 responses and the impacts on his popularity. The author found evidence that despite a short rally effect in the beginning of the pandemic, Johnson lost some of his approval due to misinformation, dishonesty, and self-praise (cf. Newton 2020: 507-508).

These explanations may represent possible causes for the decline in public support for right-wing populist governments. However, at first sight no significant lack of competence in crisis management can be identified for the respective countries. In Central and Eastern Europe, similar measures were implemented than in other European countries and the negative consequences on the economic situation were also cushioned by economic aid measures (cf. Bayerlein and Gyongyosi 2020). At the same time, the economic situation in Poland and the Czech Republic has not been as negatively affected by the pandemic as in other countries in Western or Southern Europe (cf. Kochan 2021). What can be found as a "pattern” in Central and Eastern Europe, however, are certain behaviors of right­wing populist governments often described as authoritarian or illiberal (cf. Bustikova and Babos 2020; Burni 2020b; Gusasti 2020; Meyer 2020). However, the impact of illiberal behavior during the crisis on public support for right-wing populist governments has hardly been examined empirically. Therefore, this thesis will prioritize illiberal behavior of right-wing populist governments in Central and Eastern Europe to explore its effects on their public support. In order to establish the argument of this thesis on a theoretical basis, the next chapters will lay out the theoretical framework, beginning with a conceptualization of right-wing populism and its antagonistic relation with the concept of liberal democracy.

2.2 Right-Wing Populism and Illiberal Democracy

2.2.1 Populism: A Contested Concept

Populism is a contested concept. To date, there is no consensus on what exactly populism entails. However, apart from understandings that see populism as a political strategy (cf. Weyland 2001), rhetoric, charismatic leadership (cf. Ostinguy 2020) or party organization (cf. Heinisch and Mazzoleni 2016), there is a tendency towards an ideational understanding, which is also used in this work (cf. Zulianello 2020; Mueller 2016; Hammarén 2020). One of the most frequently used definition stems from populism researcher Cas Mudde, who understands populism as a thin-centered ideology, “that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, 'the pure people' versus' the corrupt elite ', and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté Générale (general will) of the people” (Mudde 2004: 543). As a common concept, the ideational approach is useful for several reasons: It makes the results of this thesis comparable to others and makes it possible to draw on a variety of research studies. Understanding populism as a thin-centered ideology is further the most suitable definition regarding this works' research question. It allows to study different forms of populism to account for the vast varieties of it empirically and to identify the different societal grievances on which populist ideologies grow (cf. Mudde and Kaltwasser 2018: 1670; Canovan 1999: 4). Choosing an ideational approach further helps to make sense of the often-discussed problematic relation between populism and democracy by investigating the conditions under which populism threatens democratic stability (cf. ibid.: 1671). Lastly, the ideational approach allows to study populism from the supply and demand side, thus shifting the research focus from the extensively studied state actors to the society level, which helps to understand the root causes of populist parties and support dynamics more comprehensively.

Following the above-given definition, the main features of populism are based on the construction of two conflictual groups, “the people” versus the “corrupt elite”. The latter is perceived as the main root of peoples' grievances, since they only serve their self-interest. Hence, the populist view is that political elites must be replaced by populist elites, who fulfill the “true” will of “the people”. In creating this divide, populism has a strong normative component, because it distinguishes between the “good” and “bad” people and moralizes politics through creating an enemy image (cf. Mudde 2004: 544). Within this image, “the people” are understood as a homogeneous group and their “will” as a matter of common sense, which rejects the idea of a pluralist and diverse society.

In addition to the anti-elitist and anti-pluralist beliefs, it should be noted that populists do not want to make the political system more participatory. While populists claim to speak for the “betrayed people”, they do not opt for more participation of the people in the political process. Rather, they want to make them aware of their “oppression” by self-interested elites that need to be replaced by trustworthy ones (cf. Palonen 2009; Sitter et al. 2016; Rummens 2017). In doing so, they differ much from, for instance, the early Greens in Germany, a populist party in a sense that they promoted anti-elitism and claimed to speak for the people, but with a strong participatory and inclusionary orientation that aimed at giving a greater voice to the people (cf. Mudde 2004: 547). The Zeitgeist of the new populism of the late 1990s and during the 2000s is characterized by the opposite: “While the populists of the ‘silent revolution' wanted more participation and less leadership, the populists of the ‘silent counter­revolution' want more leadership and less participation” (ibid.: 557-558). This new populism is top­down and aims at improving the political output, and it does not demand more participation at the input -level (cf. Mudde 2004; Arditi 2003: 28-29; see also Taggart 2004).

2.2.2 Right-Wing Populism

As a thin-centered ideology, populism as a general concept doesn't offer much of a programmatic goal or a specific political direction. Hence, it usually draws on different ideologies such as nationalism, conservatism, or communism (cf. Mudde 2004: 544). Since many scholars have pointed out to the varieties of populists that cannot be viewed as similar entities, it seems necessary to focus on a specific type of populism, that will help to come up with more comparable results (cf. Katsambekis and Stavrakakis 2020). In this thesis, the focus will lie on right-wing populism because of the focus on Central and Eastern Europe, where left-wing populism is quite rare. It is further a form of populism which is empirically more often observed, such as President Orban in Hungary, Berlusconi in Italy, or Aleksandar Vucic in Serbia (cf. Zulianello 2019). The outlined definition of populism fits in many ways to populism on the right, because the anti-elitism and anti-pluralist characteristics overlap with right­wing anti-egalitarian ideas. However, focusing on right-wing populism specifically fills these characteristics with a distinct content. In the right-wing ideology, social inequalities are perceived as a natural order, including the notion of the national ingroup (of the “heartland”) to be superior to outgroups (cf. Mudde 2007: 26). Hence, right-wing populism rejects “social integration of marginalized groups,” while promoting xenophobia, racism and/or anti-Semitism (Betz 1994: 4).

Mudde (2007) summarizes this exclusive set of right-wing ideas under the term nativism, which entails that “states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (“the nation”) and that nonnative elements (persons and ideas) are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation­state” (Mudde 2007: 19). This nativist orientation goes well along with populism, which combines a general image of the “pure people” against the corrupt elite with the negligence of the present socio­cultural and/or political system, especially regarding representative democracy (Canovan 1999; Mueller 2016). Thus, while the populist belief is anti-pluralist in general, right-wing populism draws specifically on the cultural, national and ethnic "uniqueness” of the people as a homogeneous group to legitimize exclusion. In addition to that, right-wing populism is authoritarian, here defined as "the belief in a strictly ordered society, in which infringements of authority are to be punished severely” (Mudde 2007: 23).

Summarizing, right-wing populism is populist because of its construction of a moral struggle between the people and the corrupt elite that promotes anti-elitist and anti-pluralist convictions. It is right­wing, because it comprises strong exclusionary perceptions based on anti-egalitarian ideas of a national, cultural and/or ethnic superiority of the people. In this sense, the elite is blamed to collaborate with nonnative, inferior and threatening groups. Further connected to the right-wing ideology is the authoritarian characteristic of preferring a "law-and order” approach to manage societies.14

2.2.3 Populism and Democracy Populism as a Threat to Democracy?

Having established a definition of right-wing populism, it should now be turned to the extensive debate about whether right-wing populism poses a threat to democracy and if so, why and how. Generally, debates regarding populism and its role for the stability of democracy are shaped by scholars' understanding of populism, concepts of democracy and normative assumptions about how democracy should work.15 Kaltwasser (2012) identifies three most common approaches to this issue: While liberal approaches consider populism as a threat to democracy, radical approaches regard it as an "essential element of democracy” (cf. Kaltwasser 2012: 189).16 Kaltwasser prefers the minimal approach, which doesn't aim to make generalizations about populism and democracy, but rather looks at the conditions under which populism might become a threat or a corrective for democracy (cf. ibid.: 192-193). However, while the minimal approach is also preferred in this thesis, the author agrees with Rummens (2017) that the general concept of populism and liberal democracy is contradicting:

“Since the populist ideology implies a genuine commitment to the sovereign rule of the people as a homogeneous collective, it has an essentially exclusionary nature: it cannot accept those individuals who do not conform to its understanding of the collective identity as full members of society. As a consequence, populism cannot itself function as an inclusionary corrective for the malfunctions of liberal democracy” (Rummens 2017: 564).

It follows that populism rather reveals the malfunctions of the democratic system, which can be perceived as a chance for state and society actors to rethink ways of improving the democratic process, but populism will not “correct” these issues in a liberal way (cf. Rummens 2017: 564). One of the biggest misunderstandings between the supporters of the “populist-corrective” or “populist-threat” side is whether their concept of populism includes a participatory characteristic that aims to involve the people more in politics. According to the above-given working definition, populism does not opt for more participation. While populists often make use of existing participatory tools, such as referenda or making contracts with the people, participation is rather a tool to confirm populist rule of the people by excluding everyone that doesn't fit to the populist understanding of the people (cf. Mueller 2016: 6; Rummens 2017: 563-64). Therefore, by definition, populism cannot be liberal, and neither can right-wing populism.17 As Mueller summarizes, it is the Weltanschauung of (right-wing) populists that tends to reject opposition as a legitimate institution (Mueller 2014: 487).

In order to be able to distinguish the liberal characteristics of a democracy from illiberal characteristics, Havlik offers in his article on populism in the Czech Republic a valuable conceptualization. Based on Pappas' (2014) concept of “populist democracy,” where he attempts to differentiate between what he calls “two faces of representative democracy,” (cf. Pappas 2014: 4) Havlik adapts his table by differentiating between a plurality of interests versus the universal good (cf. Havlik 2019: 371).18

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Table 2: Borrowed from Havlik (2019) and Pappas (2014).

It follows from that, that the populism vs. democracy debate is less about the extent to which populists support illiberal models of democracy, but rather to what extent they support an autocratic form of governance. From a theoretical perspective, a major concern is that populists tend to reject political opposition as a legitimate political institution, since they claim the sole right to rule as the only accomplisher of the people's will (cf. Mueller 2016: 6). This is problematic from a democracy perspective because it suggests the preference for establishing a centralization of power within a particular populist group or leader - a central feature of autocratic rule (cf. Linz 1964: 297). This is why Mueller regards populists as anti-democratic in general, since he finds that populists in power gradually dismantle the basic features of checks and balances, especially in terms of media freedoms (cf. Mueller 2016: 14).19 In terms of right-wing populism, a potential threat to democratic rule can't be denied, because a rejection of political elites, the opposition, and pluralism as well as promoting nativist ideals are all features that overlap with autocracy. However, this threat is firstly potential, because while illiberal behavior is constitutive for right-wing populists, autocratic behavior is more context-related.20 Public Support Base of (Right-Wing) Populism in Central and Eastern Europe

Having established the illiberal characteristics of right-wing populism, the next step would be to understand the reasons for their electoral support. Knowing that public support during Covid-19 decreased for right-wing populists in power, the question arises then why they have been supported before the pandemic. Understanding this will help to make more concrete assumptions about the conditions under which these governments might lose public support during Covid-19. Since the focus lies on Central and Eastern Europe, this chapter will discuss the question about why right-wing populists have gained public support in this region (cf. Rooduijn 2015).

While support for populist parties has increased in several European countries particularly during the past two decades, right-wing populist parties tend to be more successful in Central and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe, especially when looking at Poland and Hungary (cf. Stanley 2017). General explanations for the success of populist parties in Europe usually draw on economic, cultural, and individual factors as well as the national and regional socio-economic backgrounds. For CEE, the Communist past, the challenges of democratic transition, and European integration are further often considered as crucial structural factors that gave rise to right-wing populist parties in the region (Stanley 2017; Ding and Hlavac 2017: 434).

While right-wing populist parties didn't enjoy much electoral support during the 1990s, this changed in the 2000s, when dissatisfaction of citizens grew regarding the path of the post-Communist transition, especially in terms of prolonged political corruption and oligarchy (cf. Stanley 2017: 149­150). Many new parties in the 1990s were created by political elites disentangled from society, through which informal structures could grow, leaving more space for corruption and political disintegration (cf. Stanley 2017: 144; Krastev 2010: 114). Due to the Communist era, people rather rejected political elites and parties of that time. These public sentiments also shaped the post-Communist times. Until today, trust in politicians and political institutions in CEE is one of the lowest compared to the European average (cf. Ding and Hlavac 2017: 430). This constitutes one reason for the success of populism, as their claim to replace distrustful elites and to fight corruption falls on fertile ground (cf. Guiso et al. 2020: 27).

The democratic transition after the breakdown of Communism further led to a high emigration of young people to Western Europe in the 1990s, who wanted to increase their social status. This changed the demographic situation in many countries significantly and left those who did not migrate to Western Europe as the “losers” of the post-Communist transition (cf. Krastev 2018: 54).21 This "demographic panic” (Krastev 2016: 93) fostered a cultural backslash, which has increased during the European integration process since 2004. The growing EU skepticism is based on the perception that national identity is becoming increasingly "westernized”, which undermines national sovereignty (cf. Krastev 2016: 1; Jakubowicz 2001: 2). In an empirical study on right-wing populism in Central and Eastern Europe, Ding and Hlavac (2017) confirm the prevalence of such attitudes. Accordingly, ideas of a cultural "purity of nationhood” correlate with the election of right-wing populist parties - especially in Poland and Hungary (Ding and Hlavac 2017: 441).22

Apart from that, the economic crisis of 2008 and the refugee crisis in 2014 contributed to the growing success of right-wing populist parties in the region.23 In an attempt to measure economic insecurity and globalization as reasons for populist party support across Europe, Guiso et al. (2020: 19) found that economic insecurity such as unemployment, financial distress (income difficulties) and exposure to globalization (type of employment, industry and skill level) significantly predicted support for populist parties across Europe (cf. Guiso et al. 2020: 19). More economic insecurity also correlated with distrust of political parties and immigrants. The authors concluded that "populism has an economic insecurity origin, with an important and traceable cultural channel” (Guiso et al. 2020: 27).24 Socio-demographic factors such as education further affect voting behavior: Less educated people more often voted for populist parties.25

The recent gain of electoral support for right-wing populism in CEE countries is further assumed to be linked to the national identities in Central and Eastern Europe, including greater national attachment and nationalism as well as greater fear of foreigners or migrants and the rejection of cultural and ethnic diversity (cf. Kende and Kreko 2020: 30; Krastev 2018: 52). Krastev (2018) attributes this to the historical trauma of external occupation, and on the other hand to the global revolution of migrants as reflected in the refugee crisis of 2014. Accordingly, views on migration by CEE countries have long­term roots and cannot simply be explained by a lack of “solidarity” within the European Union:

“While Western Europe's attitudes toward the rest of the world have been shaped by colonialism and its emotional legacy, Central and Eastern Europe's states were born from the disintegration of empires and the outbreaks of ethnic cleansing that went with it” (Krastev 2016: 92).

This fundamental difference in historical experiences shapes the national identities and negative views towards migration and globalization until today, in which right-wing populist ideas with a “self-image as victims of history” are more successful (cf. Krastev 2016: 94). The “cultural” aspect of public support for right-wing populists has further been discussed by Inglehart and Norris (2016) in their famous article Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash, where the authors highlight new cultural cleavages and ethnicities.26 Within this divide, psychological reasons become more central in explaining support for populism in current research, which are rooted in a “deep mistrust of the ‘establishment' and mainstream parties who are led nowadays by educated elites with progressive cultural views on moral issues” (Inglehart and Norris 2016: 30).27

It still remains a matter of discussion to what extent populist supporters opt for an illiberal model of democracy characterized by the populist notion of a universal good, adversarial politics and majoritarianism as set up in the previous chapter. The link between populist support and support for (liberal) democracy is more complex and subtle and requires further empirical investigation (Mudde 2007: 208; Krastev 2010: 118-119; Enyedi 2020). There has been growing agreement, though, that populist support is less connected to a lack of support for democracy in general than to the way democracy functions (cf. van Kessel et al. 2021: 598; Rooduijn 2015: 5; Oesch 2008: 369). A vote for right-wing populist parties further doesn't constitute a mere protest behavior, but reflects the voters' will and attitudes as well (cf. Inglehart and Norris 2016). Thus, at least some of the illiberal attitudes and ideas populist parties promote are also held by their electorate. In some CEE countries, this includes preferences for social exclusivity as forms of social illiberalism (see Kende and Kreko 2020). However, evidence is still lacking regarding the extent to which those preferences are prevalent among populist constituencies and how this is linked to preferences for illiberal democracy. This link becomes even more complicated when considering that populist parties often do not openly express preferences for an autocratic or illiberal state as such, but rather emphasize to establish a "better” democracy, which is free of corruption and self-interested elites. This promotion draws on the growing public distrust towards political actors and institutions, which could not only be observed in CEE countries, but across Europe in the last two decades (cf. Norris 1999; Dalton 2005; Blind 2006).

To understand why public support for right-wing populist governments has declined during Covid-19, the concept of public support should be discussed next as well as its characteristics and how it is shaped. In doing so, the role of illiberal government behavior and public support shall be prioritized. Expectations can then be drawn from these findings for the determinants responsible for the decline in public support during Covid-19. It should be noted, though, that the topic of public support for political actors and institutions is probably one of the most discussed issues in political legitimation research. Hence the following review does not attempt to be exhaustive.28

2.3 Public Support for Governments under the Condition of Acute Threat

2.3.1 Public Support: Concepts and Determinants

Public or political support is a central element for the functioning of a political system. David Easton defines public support as the "way in which a person evaluatively orients himself to some object through either his attitudes or his behavior” (Easton 1975: 436). These objects relate to the different polity, politics and policy levels, which are distinct from each other in terms of diffuse and specific support (cf. ibid.: 436-437).29 However, public support is a complex concept and empirical research has confirmed that diffuse and specific support are also interrelated (cf. van der Meer 2017: 4). This thesis follows Easton's broader understanding of public support, since different forms of public support will be investigated in this work. The focus will however lie on specific support for governments. As an attitude, public support can be translated into degrees of approval or political trust, which means "that members would feel that their own interests would be attended to even if the authorities were exposed to little supervision or scrutiny” (Easton 1975: 447). Thus, trust reflects the belief that officeholders will act in peoples' best interest without completely knowing or controlling their actions. In Easton's (1957) Input-Output model, trust in governments is shaped by the relationship between citizens and government, where citizens have certain expectations and make demands on how governments should behave and what they should achieve (cf. Easton 1957: 384). If governments don't fulfill those demands, a loss of support can be the result. Political authorities might fulfill some expectations while failing in others, which can be reflected in short-term fluctuations of public support. Public expectations, however, cannot be treated as a static variable, since they are prone to change in different contexts. Van de Meer (2017) summarizes these contextual factors as situational, relational, and conditional (cf. van de Meer 2017: 4-5). Accordingly, trust in governments is situational, because it depends on the expectations and demands of citizens in a given situation, such as economic crisis, war times or “ordinary” times. It is also relational since trust is evaluated in relation to how governments behave within different situations. And lastly, it is conditional because governments are entrusted to do specific actions that are expected from them.

It is still contested which specific criteria people use to evaluate their trust or mistrust in governments. There is, however, a general agreement that the quality of governance is crucial to understanding public support, which is often summarized in the literature under the term good governance. 30 Based on the demand side of political trust, the quality of governance is evaluated along the orientation towards the “public good” (Kahn 2016; Seyd 2016; von Haldenwang 2017). Von Haldenwang (2017) explains this demand and supply side in his two cycles model of legitimation, stating that “from the perspective of political subjects, the success of legitimation lies in the effective common-good orientation of the political regime and its exponents” (von Haldenwang 2017: 273-274). This orientation is based on two trust levels called first-order political trust and second-order political trust (cf. Warren 2006; Blind 2007: 5).31 While public demands for a common-good orientation can imply many things, several scholars have identified competence, care, accountability, and reliability as overarching principles that guide most peoples' evaluation of governments' trustfulness (cf. van der Meer 2017: 5; Pozsgai-Alvarez 2020: 443; Levi and Stoker 2000; see also Miller 1974; Miller and Listhaug 1990).32 There are variations and subtypes to those principles, but it is expected that when political authorities fall short on some of these components, for instance through corruption or other scandals, political trust is likely to decrease (cf. Warren 2006: 171).

Before turning to the situation of acute threat and people's expectations towards governments, some brief remarks on the current research trends in the determinants of political trust in governments should be given. Much empirical evidence today is related to the role of corruption as well as procedural fairness as significant determinants of varying trust levels (cf. van der Meer 2017: 13; Park and Blenkinsopp 2011; Kahn 2016; Miller and Listhaug 1990: 358; Kim 2010; Nye 1997; Norris 1999: 25). Accordingly, widespread political corruption 33 leads to growing dissatisfaction with the political process and political incumbents, even across regions.34 Procedural Fairness regards to the decision­making process, which is expected to be open, just and transparent (second-order trust). The role of transparent and fair government performance forms an important pillar of political trust in democracies (cf. Kahn 2016; Seyd 2016; von Haldenwang 2017). Greater political participation by the people in decision making processes has been found to be linked to increasing trust, which is enhanced through government transparency by making political decisions and actions more understandable to the public (cf. Grimes 2006: 294; Carman 2010). This includes, among others, the provision of accurate and thorough information, inclusive deliberation processes where decisions can be revised and adapted to the demands of different groups, and whether people can have a say in such decisions (cf. Bouckaert and can de Walle 2003; Carman 2010; Kim 2010: 807).35

2.3.2 Public Support under Acute Threat and the Covid-19 Pandemic

Situations of acute threat produce high levels of uncertainty, which affect people's support for governments. Research has found that, at least in the short-term of a crisis of acute threat, people tend to be more trustful and supportive of their governments. This so-called “rally-round-the flag” effect has often been observed in sudden crisis situations of international and dramatic scope (cf. Mueller 1970: 21; Chowanietz 2010). The term crisis should be defined here as “extended periods of high threat, high uncertainty, and high politics that disrupt a wide range of social, political, and organizational processes” (Boin and Hart 2003: 545). The theory behind the rally effect is that crisis leads to social-psychological shifts and interrupts ordinary political processes. In situations of acute threat, feelings of high uncertainty and fear among citizens lead to desires of stronger and decisive lead from their governments to manage the crisis (cf. Beetham 1993; Kailitz 2013). People become more supportive of their political leaders to manage the crisis and more willing to follow their decisions. Simultaneously, political competition and deliberation becomes limited because long-term goals such as the protection of democratic standards are replaced by short-term goals, which is to find a quick and sustainable solution to the current threat and the rebuilding of stability (cf. Gatmaytan 2020: 56-57). Thus, societal fears and expectations during the initial phase of a crisis as well as hesitant scrutiny and criticism by opposition parties who temporarily unite with governing parties lead to a push in citizens' government support (“hour of the executive”). However, those sudden boosts are mostly short-lived, vary in scope, and usually decline during the course of the crisis (cf. Mueller 1970: 34; Chowanietz 2010).

The decline of public support after the initial rally effect can be slight or large depending on how governments are perceived to perform during the crisis (cf. Rheinhardt 2019: 2569). While Achen and Bartel (2006) doubt that voters can make reasonable decisions during crisis and are likely to generally vote governments out of office after a crisis, Ashworth et al. (2017) argue against the irrationality-of- voters thesis. They emphasize that it is not the exogenous shock itself why people might vote against the incumbent, but that “such shocks change the voters' opportunities to learn new information about the incumbent” (Ashwort et al. 2017: 38). This is related to the quality of government responses to those shocks. People learn about the quality of political incumbents' decisions during acute threats, which “affects their expectations of future government performance” (ibid.). For instance, in an American study about government disaster management, Healy and Malhotra (2009) found evidence that voters rewarded the distribution of financial aid in response to the disaster in the next election (cf. Healy and Malhotra 2009: 388).36

The way in which the public evaluates government performance during crisis depends on different factors. Boin and Hart (2003) emphasize the major components of a crisis, which are threats, uncertainty and urgency. In such instances, the main missions of governments encompass effective crisis management in terms of reducing the threat and providing public safety, as well as appearing supportive and compassionate, while providing a transparent and open decision-making process (cf. Boin and Hart 2003: 546-548; Boin et al. 2013: 85-86). Successful government performance during crisis is a complex and challenging task. However, the authors note that one of the most important issues relates to adequate crisis communication, because this will not only determine public perceptions of government performance, but also affect public safety by providing transparent and correct information (cf. Boin et al. 2013: 85). In terms of decision-making, the authors point at deliberation processes to make adequate decisions (cf. ibid.: 83). While crisis leadership is still understudied, “bad” crisis management can be discovered when governments ignore “impending threats” or by “acting in ways that suggest they do not care” (Boin and Hart 2013: 80; Boin and Hart 2010).37

The Covid-19 pandemic is described by many as an acute crisis because it has extremely changed and interrupted the socio-economic life of societies (Alfani 2020: 206; Amat et al. 2020: 6). It poses a threat to the physical integrity of people, while the characteristics, effects, and consequences of the virus are still under-researched. When it comes to public support for governments during Covid-19, many studies focus either on the relationship between political trust and compliance with Corona measures or investigations of the rally effect. Devine et al. (2020) give an overview of the current research on trust and Covid-19 in August 2020. They show the different priorities, methodological differences, difficulties with the data and the connection to the previous concepts and assumptions of political trust research. They emphasize that scholars still disagree about how political trust should be measured and what consequences political and social trust has on governance and vice versa. According to the authors, Covid-19 offers an important starting point to further explore these questions, since the pandemic is an exogenous and cross-national crisis that allows for many comparative studies to be carried out (cf. Devine et al.: 3-4).

The study by Oksanen et al. (2020) for 25 European countries shows that trust in political institutions is related to the number of Covid-19 deaths. The higher the trust in political institutions, the lower the number of deaths (cf. Oksanen et al. 2020: 9). This implies a higher compliance with Corona measures in countries with higher political trust. At the same time, lockdowns tend to have a slightly positive influence on political support for political office holders in 15 Western European countries in the first wave between March and April 2020 (cf. Bol et al. 2021: 498). This can be attributed to the rally effect, as well as to public perceptions about the lockdown as an appropriate to combat the pandemic. In contrast, Chen et al. (2021) do not find a significant effect of pandemic measures on citizens' satisfaction with the government. They rather emphasize the number of infection rates and death rates. The higher these numbers, the less satisfied people are with their governments (cf. Chen et al. 2021: 330). With regard to the rally effect, Schraff (2020) shows for Denmark that the rally effect can be traced back to psychological causes of an “anxiety effect” (cf. Schraff 2020: 9; see also Jennings 2020).

In a global study (n = 178) on the determinants of political trust during Covid-19, Gozgor (2020) shows that demographic factors have a central influence on political trust: especially healthy and elderly people trust the government more than younger people and people with poorer health conditions as well as higher education levels (cf. Gozgor et al. 2020: 15). The author recommends that governments implement transparent, coherent crisis management to increase political confidence. Further relevant is the quantitative study by Esaiasson et al. (2020), who examine trust in government authorities in a Swedish survey in February and April 2020. Although the results show a clear rally effect, infection rates are also rising sharply, while approval of the government increases, regardless of age group, level of education and income (cf. Esaiason et al. 2020: 8). The authors conclude that the approach of the Swedish government contributes to the high level of approval, namely by relying on voluntary obedience to contain the pandemic based on transparent government communication, including debates on effective crisis management (cf. Ibid.: 9). Although the theoretical link is difficult to prove empirically due to the rally effect, a closer look at the polls of the incumbent Swedish government shows continuous political support for the ruling party. This suggests that the government's transparent and open crisis management could have had a greater influence on public support than the number of infection rates, although the Swedish death rates were significantly higher in the first wave compared to the European average.38 The case of Hong Kong shows how a lack of government transparency and responsiveness leads to a stronger organization of different communities at the local level, which are dissatisfied with government performance (cf. Hartley and Jarvis 2020: 411).

2.4 Argument and Expectations

2.4.1 General Assumptions

The following assumptions from the presentation and discussion of the state of research are used for the hypotheses of this work:

As shown in the previous chapter, acute threats change the societal opportunities to generate new information about political office holders, depending on how they react to the current threat situation. The responses from governments during acute threats indicate what can be expected from their performance in the future. For populist parties, there is the added difficulty that their political promises are usually very high: They call for an end to corrupt elites and claim that only they would govern better and morally correctly, because they know the will of the people and would execute it correctly as a matter of common sense. As a result, they must expect to be measured against their own promises. As the focus in times of crisis is increasingly on governments and their actions, the Covid-19 crisis could make the discrepancy between "saying" and "doing" of populist governments more visible. The focus during acute threat is more than usual on the government and its actions ("hour of the executive", "rally effect"), on the other hand, there is a lot at stake for society, since their physical integrity is in danger, while other parts of their usual life are heavily interrupted. An acute crisis therefore harbors new dynamics for socio-political preferences.

Citizens' expectations of their government should be viewed in relation to the current situation and in relation to the behavior of the government. Public expectations are based on the pursuit of the common interest: Government behavior should reflect a public good orientation to maintain political trust. The public interest in the situation of acute threat includes two key aspects:

- Measures for effective containment and minimization of the threat and the establishment of security39,
- The process of crisis policy, which must be transparent, fair and morally justifiable.40

It is expected that citizens will be more supportive of their governments in the beginning of the pandemic because of the high uncertainty and threat perception of the Covid-19-virus leading to the rally-round-the-flag effect. In doing so, illiberal behavior of governments might not have a significantly negative effect on public support during the first wave of the pandemic. However, this is expected to change during the course of the pandemic.

It is expected that right-wing populist governments, especially with regard to the second core aspect of public interest, will not meet the expectations of the population during the course of the pandemic, because due to their illiberal characteristics they lack an open and transparent crisis management. Moreover, while illiberal government behavior may be tolerated more in normal times, it will have a deteriorating effect on public support in times of acute threat. Illiberal behavior appears as a lack of care and trustfulness to the public, which is what citizens demand even more in times of acute threat. Since they are directly affected by the threat and respective measures, they will “watch” governments' behavior more carefully.

2.4.2 Expected Behavior of Right-Wing Populist Governments during Covid-19

The expected behavior of right-wing populist governments draws on factors that determine the difference between liberal democracy and populist democracy as discussed in Chapter 2.2.3 and mostly concerns the process of governments' crisis management (see Table 3).

1. Authoritarian Leadership: The populist way of conducting politics is based on the assumption of a “universal good” of socio-political interests which populist governments believe to know. They assume that the people are a homogeneous group whose will is common sense. Therefore, right-wing populist governments see no point in discussing political decisions or negotiating them with other actors in the political process, since other opinions are not considered legitimate. This mindset manifests itself in an authoritarian leadership style, which is characterized by decisions emanating top-down from government leaders without allowing much input from other institutions or groups. Authoritarian- oriented leaders base their decisions not on political deliberation, but on their own assessments and ideas. This leads to a lack of transparency and openness with regard to political decisions. At the same time, it can lead to misjudgments more quickly, since decisions are not weighed deliberatively and different perspectives are not considered. This is problematic for political support, especially in times of acute threat. While this type of policymaking may not attract as much public attention in normal times, in situations of acute threat, citizens want to know "what's going on" and what to expect in response to this situation. If this does not happen, trust in governments is expected to dwindle.
2. Corruption: Since populists claim the sole right to rule as the only accomplisher of the people's will, they reject alternative opinions and different perspectives, dividing the political field into friends and foes. This polarization of politics in “us-versus-them” is also reflected in populists' attempt to fill important power positions with people who represent the interests of the party or leadership: be it in the judiciary, the media sector, or in public administration. This creates structures susceptible for corruption.41 Based on the state of research that corruption leads to a decline in political trust in ordinary times, this effect is expected to be reinforced in times of acute threat. The Covid-19 pandemic has a direct impact on society as it endangers its physical integrity. In such a situation, political corruption can have an even stronger effect on the public perception of political office holders to act in a morally reprehensible and self-interested manner. Citizens do not approve incidents of political corruption in normal times, but it may be more tolerated because people feel less affected by it personally. However, in a threatening situation that is potentially dangerous for the whole society, corruption makes governments look even worse, as they seem to not care about the needs of the people even in severe situations like the Covid-19 pandemic.42

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Table 3: Borrowed from Havlik (2019) and Pappas (2014). Extended by the author.

3. Discriminatory 43 measures during Covid-19: Constitutionalisation is a crucial feature of liberal democracies, which aims to hold governments accountable and to protect individual freedoms and minority rights. According to the populist logic, minority rights have no justification and must be subordinate to the “will of the people”. In right-wing populism, this term is associated with anti­egalitarian notions of a cultural, national and ethnic superiority of the “people”, which justifies social inequality and the exclusion of certain groups and minorities. Due to these characteristics, it is expected that right-wing populist governments will tend to disregard certain human rights and use discriminatory measures during Covid-19 against specific social groups, because the crisis offers a good opportunity to do so: On the one hand, governments often have extended powers in times of crisis, on the other hand, political contestation is limited. At the same time, governments can use the crisis as a pretext for public justification. From a public support perspective, this behavior will call into question the seriousness of their crisis management, because instead of dealing with the containment and effects of the pandemic on society and the socio-economic consequences, they are trying to enforce their idea of a “good society” and enhance polarization. This type of government prioritization will therefore have a negative impact on their public support.


3.1 Qualitative Case Studies & Process Tracing

This work aims to explain the loss of public support for right-wing populist governments during the Covid-19 pandemic. In doing so, it specifically focuses on the impact of illiberal behavior by right-wing populist governments during Covid-19 on changes in public support. Since the goal is to make causal inferences, a qualitative analysis was chosen. The qualitative case study is considered a practical method because it makes it possible to generate detailed information about the factors of illiberal behavior of right-wing populist governments during Covid-19. Since there has been little research on the topic so far, qualitative case studies offer the best suitable opportunity to gain empirical in-depth knowledge about the causes in question while taking into account contextual factors (cf. Bennett and Elman 2006: 458).

The analysis is carried out as follows: First, the context of the cases will be presented by discussing the incumbent governments of the selected cases in terms of their right-wing populist characteristics. The hypothesis is that illiberal behavior by right-wing populist governments in times of acute threat leads to a decline in public support. Therefore, it is necessary to compare the link between illiberal behavior and public support before the pandemic with the time during the pandemic in order to show that times of acute threat make a difference in people's evaluation of the government. Hence, the legislative periods of the right-wing populist governments will be investigated first, which begins for the Polish PiS party in 2015 with a re-election in 2019, for the ANO party in the Czech Republic in 2017. Illiberal behavior of these governments will first be analyzed before the outbreak of the pandemic as well as its impacts on their electoral support.

In the analysis of the cases during Covid-19, the method of process tracing will be applied. It should be emphasized that the methodological assumption of the classical process-tracing method about causal inferences is not adopted (cf. Beach and Pedersen 2013: 69). It is used as a method to analyze temporal sequences of one causal explanation, that will be complemented by alternative explanatory factors. The graph of causal mechanisms (Table 4) is thus not to be understood as a sequence of independent causal conditions that lead to the corresponding outcome, but as a causal chain in which one causal mechanism precedes the other (cf. Mahoney 2007: 126). In this context, the temporal aspect plays the central role in the causal configuration. The analysis will take place in a chronological order between March 2020 and April 2021. March 2020 seems useful as a starting point, since the WHO declared the state of a global pandemic. At the same time, the first official Covid-19 cases in Poland and the Czech Republic were identified in early March (cf. Our World in Data 2021a). However, not every timely sequence might be relevant for the analysis. While every month will be investigated, a greater focus will lie on critical periods during which a significant change in the various forms of public support can be observed. These temporal reference points make it possible to better identify the causal relationship between illiberal behavior and public support.

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Table 4: Causal graph of timely sequences, own depiction. Structure borrowed from Beach and Pederson (2013: 17).

Illiberal behavior of right-wing populist governments is considered to be a central in explaining the changes in public support during Covid-19 and is determined by three factors: 1) authoritarian leadership, 2) corruption, and 3) discriminatory measures. These factors are expected to be key in explaining a decline in public support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Illiberal behavior can only cause a decline in public support if citizens are informed about this behavior publicly and thus can build their own opinion about the government. Additionally, alternative explanations need to be ruled out in order to make justified conclusions about the role of illiberal behavior in changes of public support. Included “counterfactuals” encompass factors that constitute alternative causes for shifts in public support as outlined in Chapter 2.3. These include:

- pandemic containment measures44,
- infection rates45,
- economic development46,
- and further context-related events47.

The decrease of public support is understood as a general trend of a loss of public support apart from short-term fluctuations during Covid-19. While the timely scope of nearly a year might not count as “long-term”, it is considered long enough to determine a continuing downward trend in public support, expressed through attitudes like trust in government, trust in specific government incumbents and voting intention for the governing party, as well as behavior such as national or regional elections and mass protests. Since the case studies are Poland and Czech Republic, which can be classified as parliamentary democracies, the government is mainly comprised of the ruling party(s), the ministers, and head of government, which is the prime minister in both cases.48 An investigation of the causal mechanisms within different short-term fluctuations in public support are therefore considered as the basis for making reasonable statements about the overall trend in public support one year ahead.

3.2 Case Selection

To test the hypothesis of this work, two cases were selected: Poland and the Czech Republic. These countries constitute representative cases for right-wing populists in power, illiberal behavior and a decline in public support during Covid-19. The aim of the investigation is not to implement a strict comparison, but to capture general patterns. Accordingly, the two case studies shall illustrate the extent to which illiberal behavior leads to a decline in public support. While this could also be explored by taking a single case study, it would not be sufficient to identify general patterns. For this purpose, two cases are more informative than one to illuminate the extent to which the generalizable claims made in this work hold stand, which provides more internal validity (cf. Slater and Ziblatt 2013: 1305). More importantly, the region of Central and Eastern Europe consists of relatively young democracies that have underwent many socio-political changes in the last decades (cf. Enyedi 2020: 364). In this sense, focusing on one case alone could also lead to a “special-case” bias, where discovered patterns cannot be transferred to other cases. Therefore, a second case was chosen. In doing so, care was taken to ensure controlled comparability in the selection of cases. Since the analysis of public support is a very complex field of research with potential multi-factors and dimensions that may have an impact on public support, care was taken to have similar scope conditions among the cases in order to exclude potential external biases. This makes it easier to isolate the factor of illiberal behavior from alternative explanations.

While other cases from CEE could have been selected, the Czech Republic and Poland appeared to be most suitable since they have similar scope conditions in terms of socio-economic structures (cf. The World Bank 2021a). This includes, among others, the political culture, political system, level of trust in political institutions, demographics, health system and economic performance. At the same time, the cases were selected based on commonalities in crisis management, in particular with regard to containment measures, as well due to a comparable extent and intensity of infection rates and fatalities. The Czech Republic and Poland were identified as cases with similar courses of Covid-19 infections over time: The first Covid-19 cases occurred at the beginning of March 2020. In both cases, the first wave from March to May 2020 was relatively mild compared to the European average, while the second wave hit both countries harder than the European average (cf. Our World in Data 2021a). However, this pandemic trend also applies to Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia. Hungary was ruled out due to its classification as an autocracy by Freedom House in 2019 (cf. Csaky 2020: 2). Bulgaria was excluded due to its poor economic condition as well as the long legislative tenures of the right-wing populist party GERB since 2009. Having governed the country for more than 10 years, the party could establish itself as a mainstream party, which is considered to affect their behavior during Covid-19 as well as public support. It could therefore lead to distorted results, when comparing a longstanding

populist party in power to a populist party that more recently received government power. In turn, the right-wing populist party OLaNO just became a governing party right before the outbreak of the pandemic in Slovakia in February 2020. This is also unfavorable for a comparison, since the role of Covid-19 in the context of public support for right-wing populist governments becomes only meaningful if government behavior during Covid-19 can be compared to previous behavior.

3.3 Material Selection

To determine levels of public support, it will be mainly relied on quantitative data, such as national opinion polls and surveys. To measure party support, data was taken from Europe Elects (2021), a professional provider of poll aggregates. It measures public opinion about political parties over time by using surveys that ask the respondents about party preferences if election day was held today (Sarti 2019).49 For the purpose of this work, longitudinal data from Europe Elect covering the beginning of 2018 until May 2021 for Poland and Czech Republic was used in order to compare the pre-Covid-19 period with the pandemic times.50 Apart from party support, quantitative data regarding specific support for governments during Covid-19 is provided by the National Pandemic Alarm, a project created by the European National Panels (2021a). It covers Confidence in Government between Mid­March 2020 until April 2021.51 Further opinion polls and surveys covering specific issues of confidence or trust in government incumbents will be used to add up to a more detailed picture of public support for governments during Covid-19. For Poland, this includes mainly quantitative surveys conducted by the Centre for Public Opinion Research (CBOS) and the Market and Social Research Institute (IBRIS), and concerns issues, such as evaluations of political incumbents and the political situation over time. For Czech Republic, local surveys are provided by the research agencies KANTAR, Stem/Mark and CVVM and cover similar issues.

To measure support in terms of behavior, it will be looked at electoral results and to what extent mass protests took place during Covid-19 using local news websites. In Poland, the presidential elections were held in June and July 2020 after postponing the elections originally scheduled for May. Regional and Senate elections were held in the Czech Republic in early October 2020.

To determine illiberal behavior, international case studies and reports were taken to first get a general overview of the factors of illiberal behavior such as authoritarian leadership, corruption and discriminatory measures. These were collected and cross-referenced with local media in each country. A prioritization of the data was made. Only the information on illiberal behavior reported in at least two of the most widely read local (online) news platforms was used for the analysis. This is because, according to the causal graph presented, only through sufficient public reporting will citizens be able to make a change in their assessment of the government.

The list below is based on the Digital News Reports for Poland and the Czech Republic published by the Reuter Institute and the University of Oxford (2020a; 2020b). It lists the different types of media, brands, and frequency of consumption in different countries. Table 5 only lists online news, which are used by minimum 20 percent of internet users for more than 3 days per week.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 5: Data borrowed from the Digital News Report by Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford (2020).

The focus on online media for the analysis is beneficial for two main reasons. The use of print media has declined sharply in both countries in recent years. Instead, TV and online media are nowadays the most widely used news sources (cf. Newman 2020). That said, the Corona pandemic has further increased the use of online and TV news, according to the media report (cf. ibid.). Hence, relying on online news media tends to come closest to how people in fact inform themselves today. It should be noted, though, that the selected media articles will be translated with the app DeepL, an automatic machine translator, since the author is not familiar with the national languages.


1 In this thesis, the terms corona crisis, health crisi s, or epidemic will be used interchangeably to refer to the Covid-19 pandemic as announced by WHO on March 12, 2020.

2 Due to a lack of sufficient testing and incomplete reporting, the actual infection and death rates are likely to be much higher.

3 In this thesis, liberal democracy will be understood according to Dahl's defining criteria of the participation of the people "considered as political equals” (Dahl 1971: 1). Citizens have the right to "formulate their preferences,” to form "individual and collective action,” and to not fear discrimination "because of the content or source of the preference” (ibid.: 2). Liberal democracy thus requires the provision of civil liberties and the rule of law as prerequisite for political accountability (cf. Mulgan 2011: 6-8; Schedler 1999; Zakaria 1997: 26).

4 For reasons of easier readability, the male language form is predominantly used for personal nouns and pronouns in this thesis. However, this does not imply discrimination against the female gender, but should be understood as gender-neutral in the sense of linguistic simplification.

5 Since the pandemic poses a direct threat to the physical integrity of individuals and societies, it requires that some fundamental freedoms are suspended to ensure that human safety is preserved as much as possible. However, government restrictions on individual and civil rights need to be met with caution, since they represent a major encroachment on fundamental freedoms that requires protection from arbitrary and abusive actions. Legal safeguards on situations that require some derogations of non-derogative human rights are prescribed in the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (American Association for the International Commission of Jurists 1985). Accordingly, “necessary” state measures must be: 1) legal under national law; 2) reasonable regarding the aim: 3) proportionate to that aim: and, 4) keep up with international human rights law (cf. ibid.: 6). To this end, the WHO states that all measures must serve the "specific purpose of ensuring prevention and control [...] within a legal and human rights' framework” (WHO 2007). Government measures must serve the public good and restrictions on human rights "must be viewed as a last resort [.] after all voluntary measures to isolate [.] have failed” (ibid.). In addition to that, the UN Human Rights Committee emphasized the criteria of time, meaning that deviations from the ICCPR in states of emergencies "must be of an exceptional and temporary nature” (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 2001: 1).

6 See Chapter 2.1.1 for a detailed presentation of public support during Covid-19.

7 Illiberal behavior is manifested in the characteristics: authoritarian leadership, corruption, and discriminatory measures during Covid-19. For a more detailed discussion, see Chapter 2.2.

8 The term crisis will be used in this work to refer to conditions of acute threat, understood as “extended periods of high threat, high uncertainty, and high politics that disrupt a wide range of social, political, and organizational processes” (Boin and Hart 2003: 545).

9 In addition to the central assumptions, the significance of alternative explanatory factors such as the course of the pandemic, government measures and economic developments are also analyzed in this thesis.

10 Right-wing populist parties in government positions were selected according to Taggart and Pirro's (2021) classification. They provide a list and in-depth investigation of 30 European countries and 63 parties before the pandemic and classify them according to their populist and left-right characteristics. Before the pandemic, only right-wing populist parties had government power in the European Union and only in Central and Eastern Europe.

11 The poll averages encompass most states of the European Union except Luxembourg, Cyprus, and France, due to missing data, as well as Belgium, Lithuania, Croatia, and Romania, due to national parliamentary elections during 2020, which interrupt the time period of observation due to governmental changes. The average values of electoral support are rounded values. February 2020 was included to have a comparative value of electoral support before the outbreak of the pandemic.

12 The right-wing populist governing parties include Bulgaria (GERB), Czech Republic (ANO), Hungary (Fidesz), Poland (PiS), Slovakia (OLaNO), and Slovenia (SDS). A complete list of the countries and values is provided in the Appendix.

13 If mismanagement of the pandemic becomes evident, it will be especially precarious for populist governments, because they try to uphold an image of a "savior” that cares about the "real” and forgotten people, and that wants to make the country great again (cf. Salgado and Stavrakakis 2019; Kaltwasser et al. 2017). If their crisis response fails to improve the situation or discloses mismanagement, they will not only lose much of their public support (which would happen to non-populist governments as well), but also forfeit their general basis of legitimation as the morally "true” alternative and corrective to an oppressive regime and evil elites (cf. Palonen 2009; Sitter et al. 2016; Rummens 2017). A loss of the basis of legitimation would thus translate into a significant loss of public support.

14 Mudde (2007) summarizes these features under the term “populist radical right” in his book about Populist radical right parties in Europe. His focus lies on the “radical right” aspect of parties as their root ideology. In this thesis, more attention goes to “populist” properties of political parties and leaders, complemented by right-wing ideologies. Hence, the term “right-wing populism” seems more adequate than “populist radical right”.

15 For quite some time, scholars assumed that populists in power were only an episodical phenomenon that would vanish sooner or later (cf. Mueller 2016; Pallaver and Gärtner 2006; Laclau 2005). Reasons were often found in populists' loss of legitimacy once they come to power, because they were considered as a mere protest party that lacks a political program and experience, or because they would lose their “glamour” by becoming the new elites (cf. Papadopoulos 2000: 6; Laclau 2005: 40). It was further assumed that populists in power would start to adapt to the rules of the democratic process and become more pragmatic (cf. Pallaver and Gärtner 2006). However, further years of research have shown that these assumptions cannot be confirmed easily.

16 Supporters of the populism-as-a-threat hypothesis base their arguments on the concept of liberal democracy, which is perceived to be at odds with the populist belief system, such as anti-pluralism. Some famous scholars are, for instance, Kriesi (2014), Luo and Przeworski (2019), or Albertazzi and Mueller (2013). Opposed to that, supporters of populism-is-more-a-corrective argument state that by giving a voice to the people that feel not represented, it makes the democratic process more dynamic and inclusive (see Tännsjö 2006; Arditi 2003).

17 However, there is legitimate criticism of the liberal approach, which accuses its supporters of normativity (cf. Kaltwasser 2012). Scholars often consider liberal democracy as the ultimate goal that has to be preserved. This normative orientation is criticized, since political systems are man-made and as such entitled to be changed by people. If the liberal, representative characteristic of a democracy is rejected by the people and instead a “majority” democracy is demanded, then this must be acknowledged as legitimate as well. The author of this thesis acknowledges this criticism, but believes that normative assumptions about democracy can be distinguished from empirical research on populists and their anti-liberal behavior as political office-holders. government accountability, individual freedoms and minority rights (cf. ibid.: 61).

18 The majoritarian sense of politics instead interprets peoples' will as the ultimate good, where electoral majority is transferred to the whole society (cf. Havlik 2019: 371).

19 According to Mueller, populists in power are more autocratic than illiberal since they tend to take over the entire state, establish mass clientelism, and restrict civil society as well as free press and freedom of expression (cf. Mueller 2016: 10-11). While this process seems like a typical autocratic practice, Mueller finds that what distinguishes populist leaders from autocratic ones is the former's populist convictions that link autocratic practices to democratic legitimacy, since they are elected by the people (cf. ibid.).

20 It should be noted that the impact of populism on autocratization or democratic backsliding is far less straightforward than often assumed. Nevertheless, populism is often presented as "the” main threat to democracy (e.g., Luo and Przeworski 2020), which tends to overestimate its role for democratic erosion (cf. Hammaren 2020). For instance, not all populist parties aim for a regime change or, once in power, have engaged in executive aggrandizement or similar practices (cf. Hammaren 2020). Examples include Norway's Progress Party, which gained strong electoral success in the mid- and late 2000s and became a governing party in 2013 (cf. Heinze 2018) or the Swiss People's Party, one of the largest parties in Switzerland since 1999 (cf. Albertazzi and Sean Mueller 2013).

21 On the other side, democratic erosion also happens in countries where the incumbents are autocratic but not populist, for instance in Uganda or Zambia (cf. Bermeo 2016: 12; Riaz and Rana 2020; Fomunyoh 2020). Therefore, in order to arrive at more meaningful research results, it seems useful to develop a concept of populism that focuses on subtypes as well as to be clear about the underlying concept of democracy. matter more for right-wing populist support, while economic aspects tend to explain support for left-wing populists more (cf. Lachat 2008: 297-298).

22 However, Stanley states that "radical” populism in Central and Eastern Europe should not be overestimated, since non-populist parties still dominate most of the countries' politics (Stanley 2017: 157). He argues that it is rather the presence of a few strong right-wing populist parties that dominate the current discussions and give the appearance of a drastic right-wing shift in the region. But most of the populist parties in the region are centralists (cf. Stanley 2017: 156-157). Opposed to that, Wondreys (2020) argues that right-wing populism is increasingly dominating politics in CEE.

23 The former applies more to Hungary, where Fidesz's political success in 2010 can at least partly be attributed to the worsening economic situation after 2008 (cf. Batory 2015: 9). This is more difficult to assess in the case of Poland or the Czech Republic, as their economic situation has not deteriorated as a result of the economic crisis, while support for right-wing populists still increased (cf. Krastev 2018: 50).

24 These findings are in line with previous research on support for populist parties (cf. Betz 1994; Meseznikov et al. 2008). Besides economic insecurities, it is often economic crisis or episodes of increasing immigration that precede growing support for right-wing populist parties (cf. Kriesi 2014: 370; Kaltwasser 2012: 186). However, not all voters of populist parties face economic insecurity, nor do all people who face economic insecurity vote for populist parties. Furthermore, economic explanations still lack sufficient evidence. While some empirical studies find a strong or modest relationship between different economic factors and support for populism, others do not (cf. Mudde and Kaltwasser 2018).

25 However, there are significant country variations that should be taken into account. Mudde and Kaltwasser (2018) further criticize the globalization approach as "theoretically underdeveloped,” which "lacks empirical support at both the aggregate and individual level” (1674).

26 Recent cultural changes are perceived to change too fast and in the wrong direction for populist party voters, who want to keep traditional ways of life (cf. ibid. 2016: 30). This process manifests in a generational and educational divide of the people in Western societies, leading to a cultural backslash. There are, however, different empirical results in terms of the role of education and generation across countries. Some scholars found mixed educational backgrounds within supporters of right-wing populism (Arzheimer 2011), others found the working class as a crucial voter-base of right-wing populists, but with country variations (cf. Oesch 2008).

27 Spruyt et al. (2020) support this hypothesis that voters of populist parties feel economically, culturally, and politically disadvantaged. The authors conclude that it is this mix for which populist parties offer the most satisfying answers: “Populist parties and politicians offer vulnerable people the discursive stepping stones that translate their daily experiences and concerns into the support for populism” (Spruyt et al. 2020: 344).

28 There is vast literature on different concepts, definitions, determinants, methodology, empirical studies as well as issues regarding the consequences of political trust for the political system and democracy as a whole. Not only is it beyond the scope of this thesis to present and discuss the vast research on that topic, but it is also not necessary for answering this work's research question. Most importantly for this work is to provide a basic understanding of how public support is shaped by contextual factors and government behavior. In doing so, it will focus mostly on recent literature and research trends as well as situations of acute threats and the Covid-19 pandemic.

29 For instance, low levels of specific support but high levels of diffuse support can reflect people's dissatisfaction with the current government performance, while they still support the underpinning values and rules of the political system. Scharpf uses the term output-legitimacy as a similar way to refer to specific support as to whether political outcomes are perceived as justified and useful to citizens (Scharpf 1999).

30 The concept of good governance or good government draws on previous research on the gradual decline in public support for democratic institutions and processes across advanced industrialized democracies (cf. Norris 1999; Dalton 2005; Blind 2006). While the consequences of these declines for the state of democracy are still debated, there is a consensus that people's expectations towards politics and its purpose have shifted. The “critical citizen” (cf. Norris 1999) of the twenty-first century is characterized by skepticism about politics, not necessarily by lacking democratic convictions. This skepticism becomes evident in a growing gap between people's demands of politics and regime performance (cf. Levi and Stoker 2000). Thus, scholars have come up with different concepts of good governance in the 1990s and 2000s to improve government performance in line with people's demands of serving the public good in a fair and effective way (cf. Weiss 2000; Graham et al. 2003; Aguilera and Cuervo-Cazurra 2009).

31 First-order political trust refers to the rationality of voters, who trust political actors with a similar interest. It is partisan-related, since people trust parties and leaders more with whom they identify most and hope that their interest become maximized. The second-order political trust refers more to how certain interests are achieved. Governments are not only expected to implement certain policies, they are also prone to moral scrutiny, since “people search for sincerity and trustfulness in the personality, public appearances, speeches and behavior of their political leaders” (Blind 2007: 5).

32 Competence refers to governments' professionality and whether they are perceived as capable, efficient and skillful (cf. Grimmelikhuijsen and Knies 2017: 587). They are further expected to care about the needs of society and to behave morally and ethically correct (cf. Blind 2007). Accountability serves to ensure checks on governments to prevent power abuses and governments' respect for these rules. If governments stick to their promises and provide services and policies expected by society, they are considered reliable (cf. Bouckaert and van de Walle 2003: 334). Scholars came up with slightly different, short and long lists of what the quality of governments entails, such as Ahrens and Rudolph (2006), who focus on “predictability, transparency, participation, and accountability” (Ahrens and Rudolph 2006: 212).

33 Corruption will be understood according to Moodie's definition of “the abuse or misuse of an office of trust for private gain” (Moodie 1980: 212). This working definition fits to the purpose of this work since it focuses on the “actors” of corruption that have been entrusted by the people with a political office.

34 The rationale behind this relationship is that government officials are “entrusted” with the power to act on behalf of the public interest. If they now use their power status for private advantages, they do not act in the common interest, which represents a lack of role fulfillment (cf. Poszgai-Alvarez 2020: 438). The “abuse” of an “office of trust” has further a moral component, since officials exploit their power status to the detriment of society by enriching themselves personally, which erodes political trust. in a quantitative study of different transitional and developing countries, Kahn (2016) found corruption to be strongly related to decreasing trust (cf. 671). Similar results are provided by Wang (2016) for East Asian countries. In Europe, corruption was found to be a significant predictor for varying levels of trust, while in more corrupt countries people with higher education were more distrustful of political institutions, but more trustful in less corrupt countries (cf. Hakhverdian and Mayne 2012: 746). In an attempt to measure the relationship between "real-world corruption scandals” and its effects on trust in politicians, Ares and Hernandez (2017) used survey interviews to investigate a corruption scandal in Spain. They found evidence that the corruption scandal negatively affected trust in political authorities (cf. Ares and Hernandez 2017: 6-7).

35 Schnaudt, Hahn and Heppner (2021) found in their quantitative analysis of 27 European countries that public perceptions of procedural justice are a strong predictor for political trust in authorities and institutions. Not only does procedural justice or fairness affects peoples' evaluation of political incumbents and institutions, it also affects the public acceptance of political decisions (cf. Carman 2010: 736).

36 Rheinhardt (2019) found that effects on political trust after disasters changed significantly, especially among different social and ethnic groups. Albrecht (2017), in turn, finds no significant effect of disasters in different European countries on political trust, with the exceptions of the UK and Germany. However, the disasters included were of smaller scope and intensity as the current global pandemic.

37 Governments are expected to show empathy with victims of the crisis, which is supposed to be reflected in “word and deed”, such as financial aid for negative economic side effects of the crisis (cf. Boin and Hart 2003: 548).

38 The National Poll Average from Europe Elects (2020a) for Sweden shows only a slight decline in public support for the governing party after the vanishing of the rally effect, and it continues to be stable during the course of the crisis, while support stays on a higher level than before the outbreak of the pandemic. However, the Swedish relative death toll is above the European average, both in the first wave and in the second.

39 Effective containment within a pandemic can be roughly defined as measures to overcome the acute threat, such as preventing or reducing the spread and intensity of it, including minimizing deaths and providing health care for those affected by the threat. It further comprises concrete aid measures that serve to minimize the negative side effects of the crisis on people's economic, health and social situation.

40 Apart from containing the threat, appropriate measures and political decisions must be explained and made understandable to the population so that they can understand and accept them. Governments are further expected to show empathy with the population in times of crisis by recognizing and accepting their needs and uncertainties.

41 Having defined corruption as “the abuse or misuse of an office of trust for private gain” (Moodie 1980: 212), it should be emphasized at this point that the author of this work does not assume that only (right-wing) populist governments show corrupt behavior. Corruption takes place all over the world involving the most diverse governments. However, the difference with (right-wing) populists is that corruption is seen as democratically legitimate in terms of their ideas of a populist democracy. This makes corrupt behavior constitutive of (right­wing) populist governments. Moreover, many empirical studies confirm the systematic establishment of patronage systems by populists in power (cf. Pappas 2019: 72; Rogenhofer and Panievsky 2020).

42 It is assumed that the characteristics of populist politics overlap empirically. The belief in a “universal good” of socio-political interests affects the rejection of other opinions, which in turn promotes adversarial politics. At the same time, the view of representing the general will of the people and knowing what the people want is also reflected in the rejection of institutional restrictions and the rejection of minority rights. It is therefore assumed that the theoretical assumptions made here overlap empirically. However, the distinction is useful for analytical reasons.

43 Human Rights are defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948, where Article 2 refers to the rights and freedoms of people, who should not be violated on grounds, such as “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (UN General Assembly 1948). Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights even provides an extended list of discriminatory acts: “Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited” (European Union 2012).

44 As stated in Chapter 2.3.2, the extent to which the containment measures have an impact on public support is not entirely clear. While one study found a positive effect of lockdowns on trust in government, the other found no significant relationship. Therefore, the effect on public support could go different ways.

45 According to previous research, the expectation here would be that an increase in Covid-19 infections would lead to a decrease in public support for the government.

46 A deterioration in economic conditions for people during periods of acute threat further represents a plausible explanatory factor for the decline in public support for the government.

47 Context-specific events are case-specific events or actions by governments that cannot be classified as factors of illiberal behavior or the listed counterfactuals, but which are still picked up and discussed by the local media. If such events can be observed as dominating the public discourse during the data selection, they will be listed as possible alternative explanatory factors for changes in public support.

48 Since the Polish political system is similar to a semi-presidential one and the president is also affiliated with the ruling party PiS, president Duda will also be included in the analysis, but president Zeman in the Czech Republic will mostly be excluded from the analysis.

49 Europe Elects uses the averages of surveys carried out by different survey institutes in the respective countries. They only include representative surveys with a sample size of at least 1000 respondents. The standard deviation of most surveys is 0.1 percent. The respective surveys included in the analysis are publicly available. There are numerous values covering people's party support every few days, which provides a comprehensive picture of electoral support over time.

50 To measure public support before Corona, only electoral support for the ruling party is used. This is partly due to space constraints and more importantly to a lack of long-term data for other forms of public support.

51 The questions they used for the Government Confidence Index encompass the following issues: “Do you trust the state in relation to COVID-19 disease, caused by the new type of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, and its possible effects?,” answer scale from 0 (so not trust at all) to 10 (trust completely), and “How do you assess the state's measures against the spread of COVID-19 disease, caused by the new type of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus?,” answer scale from 0 (measures are totally ineffective) to 10 (measures are totally effective) (European National Panels 2021a).

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Public Support and Illiberal Behavior of Right-wing Populist Governments during the Covid-19 Pandemic
University of Tubingen  (Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät)
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Why does support for right-wing populist governments decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic period, against the expectation that a "rally-round-the-flag" effect would be observed in times of acute threat? The author investigates this question by hypothesizing that illiberal behavior during crisis management leads to a gradual decrease in support for right-wing populists in Eastern and Central Europe. The method of process tracing is applied for the cases of Poland and the Czech Republic. The results point to a more crucial role of responsive, transparent crisis management in emergency times.
Public Support, Illiberal Behavior, Covid-19, Right-wing Populism, Eastern Europe, Poland, Czech Republic, Crisis Management, Comparative Politics, pandemic, Pandemie, Polen, Tschechien, Rechtspopulismus, Osteuropa, Corona, Illiberables Verhalten, Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft, Internationale Beziehungen, Political Science, Öffentliche Unterstützung, political trust, politisches Vertrauen, Korruption, corruption, Vergleichende Regierungslehre, Legitimität, legitimacy
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Tabea Geißler (Author), 2021, Public Support and Illiberal Behavior of Right-wing Populist Governments during the Covid-19 Pandemic, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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