Political Institutions and Policy Responses During a Crisis
45 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2020 Last revised: 2 Apr 2021
Date Written: February 2021
How do countries with differing political institutions respond to national crises? We examine policy responses to the coronavirus pandemic in a sample of 125 countries, using high frequency data on two measures: (i) containment policies, i.e., closure of public spaces and restrictions on movement of people, and (ii) health policies, i.e., public information campaigns, testing, and contact tracing. We have four main findings. First, non-democracies impose more stringent policies prior to their first COVID-19 case, but democracies close the gap in containment policies and surpass non-democracies in health policies within a week of registering their first case. Second, while policy responses do not differ by governance systems (presidential or parliamentary), elected leaders who performed better in the last election, or face an election farther in the future, impose more aggressive policies. Third, democracies with greater media freedom respond more slowly in containment policies, but more aggressively in health policies. Lastly, more conducive norms (such as trust in the elected government) systematically predict a more aggressive policy response. Our results remain robust to allowing countries with different economic, social, and medical characteristics to have different evolution of policy responses. Our analysis therefore suggests that political institutions and the incentives of the political leaders embedded therein significantly shape the policy response of governments to a national crisis.
Keywords: Democracy, Autocracy, Electoral Systems, Health Policy, COVID-19
JEL Classification: H11, H12, D78, I18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation