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Pandemics meet democracy. experimental evidence from the Covid-19 crisis in Spain

The Covid-19 outbreak poses an unprecedented challenge for contemporary democracies. Despite the global scale of the problem, the response has been mainly national, and global coordination has been so far extremely weak. All over the world governments are making use of exceptional powers to enforce lockdowns, often sacrificing civil liberties and profoundly altering the pre-existing power balance, which nurtures fears of an authoritarian turn. Relief packages to mitigate the economic consequences of the lockdowns are being discussed, and there is little doubt that the forthcoming recession will have important distributive consequences. In this paper we study citizens' responses to these democratic dilemmas. We present results from a set of survey experiments run in Spain from March 20 to March 28, together with longitudinal evidence from a panel survey fielded right before and after the virus outbreak. Our findings reveal a strong preference for a national as opposed to a European/international response. The national bias is much stronger for the COVID19 crisis than for other global problems, such as climate change or international terrorism. We also find widespread demand for strong leadership, willingness to give up individual freedom, and a sharp increase in support for technocratic governance. As such, we document the initial switch in mass public preferences towards technocratic and authoritarian government caused by the pandemic. We discuss to what extent this crisis may contribute to a shift towards a new, self-enforcing political equilibrium.

Lead investigator:

Francesc Amat


University of Barcelona

Primary topic:

Attitudes, media & governance

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Type of data being collected:

Online survey

Unit of real-time data collection


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