Lethal Incompetence: Leaders, Organizations, and the U.S. Response to COVID-19

Jonathan Bendor*, John G. Bullock

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study of voter competence has made significant contributions to our understanding of politics, but at this point there are diminishing returns to the endeavor. Voter competence is unlikely to improve dramatically enough to make much of a difference to our politics. By contrast, the competence of officials can and does vary substantially over short periods of time. To understand variations in government performance, therefore, we would do better to focus on the abilities and performance of officials, not ordinary citizens. We elaborate on this argument, emphasizing the "incompetence multiplier": The way that the properties of hierarchies can amplify the incompetence of those in powerful positions. We illustrate our argument with an extended discussion of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-337
Number of pages21
JournalForum (Germany)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Trump administration
  • behavioral organization theory
  • bureaucracy
  • incompetence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Lethal Incompetence: Leaders, Organizations, and the U.S. Response to COVID-19'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this