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Restrictions of civil liberties and their political legitimation in context: a cross-national survey experiment on citizens’ acceptance of pandemic countermeasures

Research focus:
Jan 01, 2021 — Dec 31, 2021

Under which conditions do citizens accept possibly far-reaching limitations of their individual rights for the sake of the common good? Like a magnifying glass, the global COVID-19 pandemic directs renewed attention to fundamental questions on the legitimation and acceptance of political authority within and across contemporary states and societies.

Countermeasures meant to slow down the spread of the virus – e.g., mandatory restrictions of social contacts or freedom of movement – directly tap into the delicate balance of individual freedoms on the one hand and public health on the other. Moreover, the pandemic exemplifies a societal threat that is truly global in nature. The virus almost simultaneously affects diverse societies relatively independently of their political regimes, their dominant cultures, and their  patterns of social stratification.

In all societies, countermeasures against pandemic threats have potentially far-reaching effects not only on the health of citizens but also on their socioeconomic resources and their trust in key social and political institutions. Thus, the unprecedented global public health threat of COVID-19 does not only raise pressing questions about citizens’ readiness to comply with public health interventions and their (dis)satisfaction with government responses to the threat; it also provides a unique opportunity for deepening our understanding about how citizens evaluate fundamental trade-offs between sacrificing individual freedom and the common good in politically, culturally and socially diverse contexts.

The project investigates how different political legitimation strategies on the part of the government interact with individual-level factors in varying political and cultural contexts to shape citizens’ evaluations of concrete trade-offs between individual liberties and the common good. Thereby, the study will provide crucial insights into citizens’ support for or objection against general modes of social and political coordination, as well as the allocation of resources for improving citizens’ life chances.