A “Terrific Symbol”: Physical Personalization of Pandemic Relief Enhances Presidential Support

January 20, 2022

Cambridge University Press

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments worldwide—many that previously prioritized austerity—to approve large relief packages. Political economy tells us that politicians will try to profit from this electorally, but much remains unknown about precisely how pandemic relief might influence voting intentions. Then-President Donald Trump foregrounded this question early in the pandemic by becoming the first US president to physically place his name on Internal Revenue Service relief checks mailed to citizens. By leveraging a nationally representative survey whose timing achieved quasi-experimental variation in the receipt of payments both with and without Trump’s name physically on them, this study asks: Can a president successfully win support through physical personalization of the payments? 

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