Comparative Politics

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 examine the consequences of the most deadly pandemic in recorded history: 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 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 Black Death’s consequences 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; and (3) have significantly lower vote shares for Hitler's National Socialist Party.

Summary of changes from Version 4

The most important changes in this new version of the paper are the following: (1) We test if the spatial divergence in political traditions—caused by the Black Death and observed in Imperial Germany—persisted into the Weimar Republic. Our test examines the geographic association between historical Black Death intensities and the Nazi Party's vote share in the early 1930s. (2) We provide several new extensions to our empirical test, including analyses that: (a) introduce pre-treatment spatial fixed effects; (b) consider other parties and election years; (c) incorporate population sizes when constructing the BDEI score; (d) manually limit the regions from which local Black Death outbreaks are considered; and (e) account for geographic variation in agricultural potential. (3) We provide a detailed qualitative illustration of the mechanisms behind the Black Death's long-term effects. (4) We add a new empirical test of these mechanisms, which focuses on socioeconomic structures in early nineteenth-century Prussia.


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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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