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.

Version notes

The most important changes in this new version of the paper are the following: (1) comprehensive editing of the main text to make it more succinct, (2) minor revisions to several graphics (primarily to make them fit better into the PDF document), and (3) a series of smaller updates and changes to formatting. Please note that the new version is also accompanied by the link to a video presentation, which can be found below. The video presentation provides an overview of the paper's main arguments and empirical results.


Thumbnail image of Pandemics_Political_Development.pdf

Supplementary weblinks

Video Presentation of "Pandemics and Political Development"
This video provides an overview of the paper's main arguments and empirical results.
Author Website (Jan Vogler)
Author Website (Jan Vogler)
Author Website (Daniel Gingerich)
Author Website (Daniel Gingerich)


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