Orkun Saka (University of Sussex and LSE): The Political Scar of Epidemics 

Co-authors: Cevat G. Aksoy (EBRD and King’s College London) and Barry Eichengreen (University of California, Berkeley)

How does epidemic experience affect attitudes towards political institutions? We find that epidemic exposure during the formative years (18-25) has a significantly negative and persistent influence on individuals’ confidence in political leadership, government, and elections. These scarring effects do not seem to exist for non-political institutions, in non-democratic countries, or for non-communicable diseases. On the other hand, we find similarly adverse effects on individuals’ confidence in the public health system suggesting that the loss of confidence in politics may be driven by healthcare-related policies at the time of the epidemic. In line with this argument, we show that our results are mostly driven by individuals who experienced epidemics under weak governments which may have been less able to act against the epidemic, hence disappointing their citizens. By using the recent COVID-19 setting to explicitly test this mechanism, we illustrate that weak governments took much longer to introduce policy interventions in response to the outbreak. Our results imply that the COVID-19 may leave behind a disruptive and long-lasting political legacy.

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