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The Political Scar of Epidemics

Saka, O. ORCID: 0000-0002-1822-1309, Eichengreen, B. & Aksoy, C. (2022). The Political Scar of Epidemics. The Economic Journal,


Epidemic exposure in an individual’s “impressionable years” (ages 18 to 25) has a persistent negative effect on confidence in political institutions and leaders. This loss of trust is associated with epidemic-induced economic difficulties, such as lower income and unemployment later in life. It is observed for political institutions and leaders only and does not carry over to other institutions and individuals. A key exception is a strong negative effect on confidence in public health systems. This suggests that the distrust in political institutions and leaders is associated with the (in)effectiveness of a government’s healthcare-related response to epidemics. We show that the loss of political trust is largest for individuals who experienced epidemics under weak governments with low policymaking capacity, and confirm that weak governments in fact took longer to introduce policy interventions in response to COVID-19. We report evidence that the epidemic-induced loss of political trust discourages electoral participation in the long term.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article has been accepted for publication in The Economic Journal by Oxford University Press.
Publisher Keywords: epidemics; trust; political approval
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Economics
[img] Text - Accepted Version
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