Will voters polarize over pandemic restrictions? Theory and evidence from COVID-19

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In a pandemic, voters will polarize over the choice of restrictions their society needs to impose. This is because in the eyes of voters, optimal restrictions vary with individual and aggregate productivity, vaccination status, and government fiscal transfer capacity. Specifically, less productive voters and those with a limited vaccination status prefer milder restrictions. In addition, voters in countries with superior vaccination programs prefer harsher restrictions, but the effect is weaker when their government has stronger fiscal transfer capacity. These propositions have been tested using the largest global dataset of pandemic restrictions and vaccination rates and are broadly confirmed. Consequently, the paper explains both cross-country variations in restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and their development as vaccination programs gained traction. It also offers policy insights into the level of restrictions for future pandemics that different voters will deem tolerable.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106749
JournalEconomic Modelling
Early online date10 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 May 2024


  • COVID-19
  • Fiscal transfer
  • Lockdown
  • Political polarization
  • Restriction
  • Vaccination

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