Theme Panel: Party Systems and Political Institutions and COVID-19 Policy Responses

Party Systems and Political Institutions and COVID-19 Policy Responses

Full Paper Panel

(Chair) Olga V. Shvetsova, SUNY, Binghamton University; (Discussant) Olga V. Shvetsova, SUNY, Binghamton University; (Discussant) Andrei Zhirnov, University of Exeter

Session Description:
This panel consists of research papers that address a set of question s linking political institutions, party systems institutionalization, and the way in which democratically elected governments behaved in responding to the public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The threat of a public health disaster became apparent to the governments in all countries at about the same time, even though eventual peaks of infection occurred at different times in different countries. Public health policies were the primary method to reduce the spread of infection both before and after the vaccine development, albeit of greater importance during the Non-Medical Intervention period of the year 2020. The public health solutions to the crisis were first limited to things political, and later supplemented to a great extent when more virulent variants of the virus some into play. The government incumbents have put in place protective public health policies ranging from instituting lockdowns to requiring the wearing of face covers. Protective policies were socially and economically costly, while their benefits were hard to ascertain in advance, and were to be observed more in the long run if at all. The pandemic thus presented the political incumbents worldwide with a choice situation in terms of what if any public health measures they would enact. This panel asks and answers questions about the effects of political institutions and the condition of party systems at national and subnational levels on the strategic behavior of politicians in public health policy making.


Institutionalization, Partisanship, and Public Opinion of COVID-19 Policies
Julie VanDusky-Allen, Boise State University

A growing body of literature is finding that citizens in democracies throughout the world rate their government’s response to COVID-19 higher if the executive is their co-partisan. Yet the extant literature on party system institutionalization suggests that the strength of partisan identification varies from country to country, and therefore the impact of partisanship on citizens’ evaluations of their governments’ responses to COVID-19 should vary cross-nationally. We should expect party identification to have a minimum impact on citizens’ evaluations of COVID-19 responses in countries where party systems are weakly institutionalized and a stronger impact in countries where party systems are strongly institutionalized. Using data from public opinion surveys throughout Latin America, data from the V-Dem dataset on party system institutionalization, and data from a unique dataset on government responses to COVID-19, we examine whether partisanship influences citizens’ views of how well their governments handled the pandemic.

Party Systems and COVID-19 Policies in Federations: Nigeria and South Africa
Onsel Gurel Bayrali, Binghamton University

This study argues that integrated party systems increase the elite-level coordination during the pandemic based on the cases of Nigeria and South Africa. Integrated party systems refer to electoral and organizational linkages between regional and national party elites. COVID-19 pandemic presented a situation when public health policies were necessary but incumbents at national and sub-national levels of government preferred for these policies to be issued by the other. Federal governments, in particular, could out-wait their sub-national counterparts and avoid making costly policies. I argue that where party systems were more integrated, the federal governments did more during the pandemic. I use the data on Nigeria and South Africa, which I collected and curated as a part of a novel data set on government-specific Protective Policy Indices (PPI) from the Binghamton University political science department Covid-19 Policy Response lab. Evidence shows that weak partisan linkages among the Nigerian political elites increase the policy burden on regional governments compared to their South African counterparts and also lead to the overall weaker policy response in the course of the year 2020. Variation in the level of integratedness of regional party systems with the national party system alters HOW? policy makers’ decisions across jurisdictions.

Institutional Underpinnings of COVID-19 Policy Making in Europe
Dina Rosenberg, National Research University – Higher School of Economics; Ezgi Muftuoglu, Binghamton University; William B. Heller, SUNY, Binghamton

Chinese authorities identified the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in January 2020. By early March, there were over 4000 cases in Europe (Spiteri et al. 2020) and governments were starting to see the disease a serious threat. The novelty of the disease, along with the array of possible manifestations—with symptoms ranging from nothing at all to severe pneumonia and death—meant that scientific understanding and advice regarding best practices were sometimes ambiguous and often changing as the case load increased and data and understanding improved. Under such circumstances it is to be expected that policy responses should differ across countries, as policy makers struggle to evaluate available advice in the face of difficult tradeoffs. In hindsight, however, some fifteen months after Europe saw its first recognized case, the early and perhaps understandable differences in governmental responses to the pandemic look surprisingly persistent even as the available advice from national and international health authorities has converged and stabilized. This consistency in the range of responses—and their efficacy—over time suggests systematic underpinnings to policy making in times of crisis just as for policy making under more normal circumstances. To gain insight into the drivers of policy-making in the face of the COVID-19 threat, we examine breadth and severity of initial governmental measures to contain the disease from January through April 2020 in Denmark, Finland, Italy, and Spain. Initial analysis suggests that many of the usual suspects in institutional analysis—system type, electoral rules, and state territorial structure—provide little leverage on either government policy response or health outcomes. We focus here on coalition dynamics and in particular the interdependencies between ministries (and ministers’ parties; Alexiadou 2015) in pandemic policy making.

COVID-19 Policies and Outcomes in the United Kingdom and the United States
Ezgi Muftuoglu, Binghamton University; Michael Anthony Catalano, Binghamton University, SUNY

The COVID-19 pandemic response displayed a stark contrast in the capacity of unitary and federal systems to combat emergent crises. This institutional contrast played out in comparisons between the United States and the United Kingdom where, despite having national leaders who were overtly dismissive of COVID-19, the ability (or inability) of other levels of government to respond lead to variation in policy and public health outcomes. This paper tracks these policy and public health outcomes based on institutional variation in responses to the pandemic. We argue that the federal nature of the United States allowed state-level policymakers to enact “correct” policies when national-level policymakers did not, resulting in better public health outcomes. Meanwhile, the unitary government structure in the United Kingdom gave subnational policymakers little say in the pandemic response. Less effective policies by the national government could not be corrected in the United Kingdom, leading to worse public health outcomes compared to most of the United States.