Trump, Bolsonaro, And the Framing of the COVID-19 Crisis: How Political Institutions Shaped Presidential Strategies

Daniel Beland, McGill University
Philip B. Rocco, Marquette University
Catarina Ianni Segatto, Federal University of ABC
Alex Waddan, University of Leicester

Published version. World Affairs, Vol. 184, No. 4 (December 1, 2021): 413-440. DOI. © 2021 SAGE Publications. Used with permission.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed.


In the aftermath of the global COVID-19 crisis, whereas many world leaders enacted swift lockdown orders and robust testing regimes to preserve public health and to speed up economic recovery, Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil responded to outbreaks by publicly downplaying the significance of the crisis and argued that overly restrictive health measures would create too sizable an economic risk. These two presidents have done much to weaken democracy and trust in government. In this article, we examine the extent to which two institutions in each country––federalism and the party system––impacted the ways in which they framed the COVID-19 crisis and policy responses to it in 2020, especially during the first months of the pandemic. Our evidence suggests that each of these institutions provided opportunities for both leaders to reconstruct public understandings of the crisis while deflecting blame for negative public-health outcomes.