Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Reader 1

Aseema Sinha


The devolution of COVID-19 responses to state and local governments in the United States resulted in a sub-national variation of policies. Despite having access to similar information regarding risk and transmission, as well as facing similar policy options, state governors pursued disparate approaches to mitigate the spread of the virus. In an effort to disentangle the particular determinants which contributed to such differences, this thesis provides a comparative case study analysis of four U.S. governors, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, vis-à-vis their pandemic responses. Comprehensive policy timelines reveal differences in terms of policy timing and stringency, as well as issue and policy framing. Within this framework, this thesis explores two causal variables, the governor’s gender and political pressures. Ultimately, this thesis finds that gender had only a subtle effect on the determination of the governors’ responses, affecting only media portrayals of differences in framing. Political pressures, on the other hand, are found to have played a large role across three dimensions: first, reliance on voluntary compliance versus stringent mandates; second, alignment with versus opposition to President Trump; and third, contradictory versus consistent messaging regarding the effectiveness of mask-wearing. This thesis applies theories of feedback mechanisms in describing how perceived interests and risk calculations of the governors’ key supporters both reinforced and were reinforced by the governors’ actions. Thus, the variation in pandemic responses among U.S. governors is argued to be caused by a variation in individual perceptions of interests and risks among their respective support bases.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.