February 10, 2022: Amelie Wuppermann (Universität Halle-Wittenberg)
The toll of voting in a pandemic? Municipal elections and the spread of COVID-19 in Bavaria
Abstract: This study investigates whether the municipal elections that were held on March 15, 2020 in Bavaria – shortly after the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic– contributed to the spread of COVID-19 cases and COVID-related deaths in this German state. Constructing synthetic controls for each of Bavaria’s 96 districts based on the other German districts, we find that about 86 per 100,000 – over a third of the increase in positive test results between March 15 and April 4 in Bavaria – cannot be explained by district-level demographic, economic, health or child care characteristics, nor by the distance to Ischgl, a proxy for skiing tourism that was largely responsible for the first wave of COVID in Germany. Furthermore, within Bavaria, districts with higher voter participation had a higher increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths after the election, even when holding other drivers of the spread of the virus, such as distance to Ischgl and strong-beer festivals constant. Our results are highly robust and suggest that elections can be spreaders of infectious diseases. They call for future research to investigate the role of elections in spreading infectious diseases.