Could Coronavirus Bring the Country Together?

April 6, 2020, 6:45 a.m. ·


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The coronavirus pandemic is causing many issues, including millions of lost jobs, shortages of essentials at grocery stores, restaurant and businesses closures and the forced isolation of millions of people. What are the prospects this crisis brings Americans together like after Pearl Harbor or 9/11?

The year was 1941 and America had just been attacked by Japan. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech before a joint session of Congress.

The U.S. came together after the attack and this bond held the country together through World War II. Dr. Ingrid Haas is an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She said during times of uncertainty, like the current coronavirus pandemic, an interesting thing can potentially happen in politics.

Political scientists have gone into something called a rally around the flag effect which tends to happen during times of national crisis," Haas said. "It does make Americans more likely to come together to try to solve whatever problem is happening. And in some cases, it unites people politically too, although I think there's maybe mixed evidence on whether or not that's happening quite yet with the current crisis.”

How people think the coronavirus crisis is being handled will help determine whether they have trust in government. But Haas said even during a pandemic, there is still polarization in American politics.

“Democrats on average are much less likely to say that they think President Trump is handling it well," Haas said. "But there is a little bit of a bump even for people who you wouldn't necessarily assume to see that with, so that would be kind of consistent with this rally around the flag type idea.”

Haas is referring to a recent Gallup poll which shows President Trump’s approval rating at an all-time high of 49%, with 60% of Americans approving of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She said that’s due in part to the president being visible in times of crisis with daily briefings from the White House. Haas thinks that could help increase the perception that he is responding strongly to it.

“Even if he's made some missteps in terms of misspeaking and things like that," Haas said. "I'm not sure the American people as a whole are going to hold that against him if they perceive that he's trying to take some action to help them.”

Though Haas said the little uptick Trump has seen isn’t a big enough spike to make a real difference, as President Trump is still a polarizing figure. She also thinks uncertainty can cause negative effects in terms of increasing polarization and negativity directed toward people who are politically different.

I think we need to be really cautious with trying to manage the uncertainty in a way that people aren't panicking because if that starts to happen, then they are going to start to take it out on others," Haas said."

She said the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on the 2020 presidential election, but who it helps or hurts and how big of an impact it will have is yet to be determined.

"To show that presidents are much more likely to be reelected when the economy is good," Haas said. "But if this sort of “rally around the flag” type effect happens in times of crisis like we're in now, there's also evidence that that could boost reelection chances for sitting presidents."

Haas notes that Republicans and Democrats each have high trust in local government’s handling of the coronavirus, be it county, city or state leaders.