Institutional Origins of Protective COVID-19 Public Health Policy Responses: Informational and Authority Redundancies and Policy Stringency

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In this essay, we argue that institutional systems that allow redundancies in information channels and in policy-making are more likely to generate a rapid policy response to crises such as the onset of COVID-19 pandemic than more streamlined systems. Since democracies and decentralized polities feature higher informational and authority redundancies, we theorize improved crisis response in democracies, and in more decentralized democracies.

To assess our theoretical expectations, we construct an original data set of stringency of policy measures that were adopted in response to COVID-19 by governments at different levels in 64~countries between January and May 2020. We find that democracies and liberal democracies responded to COVID-19 stronger and faster. Federalism and decentralization in addition to democratic institutions played a less uniform, but still a positive role. Beyond their other acknowledged merits, democratic institutions have superior capacity to mount a quick policy response to unqualified threats.