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
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.
Summary of changes from Version 2
The most important changes in this new version of the paper are the following: (1) an extension that considers historical information asymmetries in agricultural potential (this extension is based on an argument by Ahmed & Stasavage (2020) that such asymmetries could influence early democratic development), (2) an extension that includes spatial fixed effects to account for unobserved regional heterogeneity, and (3) an extension in which we use two alternative datasets on Black Death outbreaks to construct our key explanatory variable.
Supplementary weblinks
Author Website (Jan Vogler)
Author Website (Jan Vogler)
Author Website (Daniel Gingerich)
Author Website (Daniel Gingerich)