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

24 November 2020, Version 6
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


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.


Black Death
Imperial Germany
German Empire
Labor Coercion
Inclusive Political Institutions
Landed Elites
19th Century
20th Century
Land Inequality
Nazi Party
Weimar Republic

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