Comparative Politics

Pandemics and Political Development: The Electoral Legacy of the Black Death in Germany

Daniel Gingerich University of Virginia
,
Jan Vogler University of Virginia
Abstract
Do pandemics have lasting consequences for political behavior? We address this question by examining the consequences of the most deadly pandemic of the last millennium: the Black Death (1347-1351). Our claim is that pandemics can influence politics in the long run if they impose sufficient loss of life so as to augment the price of labor relative to other factors of production. When this occurs, labor repressive regimes (such as serfdom) become untenable, which ultimately leads to the development of proto-democratic institutions and associated political cultures that shape modalities of political engagement for generations. We test our theory by tracing out the local consequences of the Black Death in German-speaking Central Europe. We find that areas hit hardest by the pandemic were more likely to: (1) adopt inclusive political institutions and equitable land ownership patterns; (2)exhibit electoral behavior indicating independence from landed elite influence during the transition to mass politics.
Content
Supplementary weblinks
Author Website (Jan Vogler)
Author Website (Jan Vogler)
Author Website (Daniel Gingerich)
Author Website (Daniel Gingerich)