Pandemics and Political Development: The Electoral Legacy of the Black Death in Germany

153 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2020 Last revised: 24 Nov 2020

See all articles by Daniel Gingerich

Daniel Gingerich

University of Virginia

Jan P. Vogler

University of Virginia

Date Written: November 23, 2020


Do pandemics have lasting consequences for political behavior? We address this question by examining the consequences of the most deadly pandemic of the last millennium: the Black Death (1347-1351). Our claim is that pandemics can influence politics in the long run if they impose sufficient loss of life so as to augment the price of labor relative to other factors of production. When this occurs, labor repressive regimes (such as serfdom) become untenable, which ultimately leads to the development of proto-democratic institutions and associated political cultures that shape modalities of political engagement for generations. We test our theory by tracing out the local consequences of the Black Death in German-speaking Central Europe. We find that areas hit hardest by the pandemic were more likely to: (1) adopt inclusive political institutions and equitable land ownership patterns; (2) exhibit electoral behavior indicating independence from landed elite influence during the transition to mass politics; and (3) have significantly lower vote shares for Hitler's National Socialist Party in the Weimar Republic's fateful 1930 and July 1932 elections.

Keywords: Black Death, Plague, Germany, Imperial Germany, German Empire, Legacies, Serfdom, Labor Coercion, Proto-Democracy, Democracy, Inclusive Political Institutions, Landed Elites, Democratization, Pandemics, Land Inequality, 19th Century, 20th Century, Nazi Party, NSDAP, Weimar Republic, Elections

JEL Classification: I15, I18, J11, J21, N13, N33

Suggested Citation

Gingerich, Daniel and Vogler, Jan P., Pandemics and Political Development: The Electoral Legacy of the Black Death in Germany (November 23, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel Gingerich

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Jan P. Vogler (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

PO Box 400787
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904
United States

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