What is the impact of a global health crisis on political behavior? We study the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on electoral choice based on the case of Germany, one of the countries most heavily affected by the crisis. Our data come from the German state of Bavaria, where local elections were held right at the beginning of the pandemic. The elections took place early during the outbreak when there was still substantial variation in the extent to which individual counties and municipalities were affected by the outbreak. This variation provides a unique opportunity to study the causal impact of an event that would shortly after grow into an all-encompassing epidemic. We provide evidence that shows that the disease spread across the state in a mostly haphazard fashion. This lack of a discernible pattern coupled with within-county estimation of effects and a difference-in-differences strategy allow us to causally asses the effect of the spreading of the virus on electoral outcomes. Our results show that the crisis strongly and consistently benefited the dominant regional party, the CSU, and its candidates. For 3 known cases per 100,000 inhabitants, vote shares increased by about 4 percent. We explain our findings with a strategic-alignment mechanism, whereby voters vote into power candidates that they deem most likely to be able to solicit support from higher levels of government. Our findings emphasize the merit of forward-looking theories of voting, and provide insights on the functioning of democracy during crisis.
Rebel Recruitment and Migration: Evidence from Africa's longest-running insurgency (with D. Auer).
We investigate whether the threat of recruitment by rebel groups spurs domestic and international migration. Much of the literature on wartime displacement so far has focused on the displacement of potential victims of violence. We argue that in parallel, we should also observe the migration of individuals particularly attractive for---and attracted to---armed groups because they may try to avoid forced recruitment, or because their families seek to prevent them from joining. We study the case of the Casamance in southern Senegal, which, since the 1980s, has been affected by low-level warfare between rebels and government troops. The case is interesting because rebel activities are highly localized in certain areas but not others, so that we are able to compare affected regions with otherwise similar regions nearby. We test the hypothesis that in places where rebels are active, individuals will opt to migrate, and will do so in order to avoid recruitment. To test these ideas we draw on original survey data (n=3,270) collected among young men and women in the Casamance. Causal identification comes from an instrumental variable strategy where recruitment threat is instrumented with the density of the local canopy cover. We show that individuals whose family background, demographic characteristics and character traits make them a good fit as recruits have significantly higher migration plans and are the most likely to be sent away by their families. Analyzing data on the migration history of over 24,000 family members, we also uncover substitution effects within families and between types of migration. Migrants from families threatened by recruitment tend to be young, male, and tend to migrate domestically. There is a consequent reduction in migration by women and old people as well as a reduction in international moves. Our paper contributes micro-evidence for a mechanism that so far has received only scant attention in the literature. We show that along with individuals who flee because they are opposed to the rebels and fear violence, there is a parallel movement out of the violence-affected areas of individuals that are attractive as potential recruits.
Genocide and the Perception of Politics: The Legacy of Mass Violence and Protest Behavior in Armenia (with R. Hakimov).
Can memories of mass violence explain participation in revolutionary protest? We study the case of Armenia, where large parts of the population descend from survivors of genocide, and which recently saw large-scale demonstrations that led to the removal of the incumbent president. We bring to bear an original, nationally representative dataset (n=2,637) collected between the `velvet revolution' and the first elections under the new government. Our data shows that individuals who count victims of the Armenian genocide among their family members were much more likely to protest, and are also more likely to have voted in the elections that followed the revolution. To avoid desirability bias we deploy an indirect measure of protest participation and use verified voting records from the national register to measure turnout. Our findings hold when we control for historical background characteristics and place-of-origin fixed effects, and when investigating behavior at the intensive margin: the more severe the historical victimization, the more likely individuals took part in the revolution. We then go on to explain the mechanism behind our finding. We theorize that memories of violence can make the larger forces of politics matter to individuals, thereby increasing political sophistication and spurring political action. Using causal mediation analysis, we provide empirical evidence for our theory. While individuals from victimized families share most political preferences with the rest of the population, they show deeper political knowledge, greater political interest, and consider politics as more important for their private lives. Besides adding a highly relevant case to the literature on the legacies of violence, our study therefore provides a new theoretical explanation for the puzzling link between political engagement and experiences of violence.