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Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Lockdown or not: answer lies in poll timing

Covid-19 curbs were less strict in countries where elections were closer and incumbents were likely to run for leadership again, research suggests

Politicians have an eye on the next elections even in normal times. The covid-19 pandemic was hardly going to be different: leaders knew strict lockdowns could risk the economy and dampen re-election chances. A new research confirms this, and finds that lockdowns tended to be laxer in countries closer to their next elections.

A working paper by researchers from New York University looks at how electoral concerns of political leaders shaped the responses to covid-19 in 65 countries. Most countries in the analysis have presidential systems with term limits. The paper has been published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research.

Lockdowns have been assessed using each country’s daily value on the Oxford University’s stringency index since the day the first coronavirus case was reported, till 29 May.

The paper finds that re-election concerns explain up to 24% of the variation in the lockdown stringency levels. The difference was more pronounced if the incumbent presidents were eligible to seek another term. In such cases, bringing the next election one year closer relaxed the lockdown norms by 8%, the research finds. Looming elections also discouraged decisions that were more likely to hit the economy, such as closing of workplaces over cancellation of school classes.

The paper cites the example of how Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who will face re-election in 2022, promised to reverse restrictive measures imposed by provincial governors. In the United States too, ahead of the November elections, President Donald Trump has pushed for opening the economy despite rising coronavirus cases.

However, the authors acknowledge that elections need not be the only driver of a government’s response to the pandemic. A leader’s ideology and authoritarian attitudes, or citizens’ willingness to comply with policies, could also be at play, the paper concludes.

Also read: Electoral Concerns Reduce Restrictive Measures During The Covid-19 Pandemic

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