The pandemic politics of existential anxiety: Between steadfast resistance and flexible resilience

Uriel Abulof, Shirley Le Penne, Bonan Pu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We all know we will die, but not when and how. Can private death awareness become public, and what happens when it does? This mixed-method research on the Covid-19 crisis reveals how pandemic politics cultivates and uses mass existential anxiety. Analyzing global discourse across vast corpora, we reveal an exceptional rise in global ‘mortality salience’ (awareness of death), and trace the socio-political dynamics feeding it. Comparing governmental pandemic policies worldwide, we introduce a novel model discerning ‘mortality mitigation’ (coping mechanisms) on a scale from steadfast resistance (‘oak’) to flexible resilience (‘reed’). We find that political trust, high median age, and social anxiety predict a reedy approach; and that the oak, typically pushing for stricter measures, better mitigates mortality. Stringency itself, however, hardly affects Covid-related cases/deaths. We enrich our model with brief illustrations from five countries: China and Israel (both oaks), Sweden and Germany (reeds) and the USA (an oak–reed hybrid).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-366
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Political Science Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Covid-19
  • Germany
  • Israel
  • Pandemic politics
  • Sweden
  • USA
  • coping mechanisms
  • crisis
  • death
  • existential anxiety
  • mortality
  • mortality mitigation
  • mortality salience
  • resilience
  • terror management theory

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science


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