Are Competitive Elections Good for Your Health? Evidence from the 1918 Flu and Covid-19

66 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2021 Last revised: 6 Dec 2021

See all articles by Jacob Walden

Jacob Walden

University of Michigan

Yuri Zhukov

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Political Science

Date Written: November 2, 2021

Abstract

Do more electorally vulnerable government officials respond to public health emergencies more aggressively than officials in less competitive seats? Using novel data on local government responses to the 1918 influenza A (H1N1) “Spanish Flu” and 2020 Covid-19 pandemics in the United States, we study how the competitiveness of federal, state and local elections shapes the policy choices of incumbents. We find that, in 1918, vulnerable incumbents enacted more and longer nonpharmaceutical interventions (e.g. quarantines, closures), enforcing them more aggressively than in less-competitive jurisdictions. Their constituents subsequently experienced fewer influenza-related deaths and lower overall excess mortality. In 2020, more competitive constituencies similarly experienced lower rates of Covid-19 infection and death, but they implemented fewer nonpharmaceutical interventions and relied more on pharmaceutical measures. This policy substitution was feasible in part due to political geography: more competitive localities became more suburban, and more conducive to social distancing in the absence of government mandates.

Note: Funding: Funding for this research was provided by an NSF RIDIR grant under award number SES-1925693 (“The Sub-National Data Archive System for Social and Behavioral Data”).

Declaration of Interests: None to declare.

Keywords: elections, accountability, public health, pandemic

JEL Classification: D72, H12, I18

Suggested Citation

Walden, Jacob and Zhukov, Yuri, Are Competitive Elections Good for Your Health? Evidence from the 1918 Flu and Covid-19 (November 2, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3921182 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3921182

Jacob Walden

University of Michigan ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://waldenpolitics.com/

Yuri Zhukov (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Political Science ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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