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What Drove the First Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic? The Role of Institutions and Leader Attributes

Hartwell, Christopher A. (2021): What Drove the First Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic? The Role of Institutions and Leader Attributes.

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Abstract

What determines how a national government reacts in a crisis? The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to explore leadership behavior and crisis management, and this paper examines what drove the extent of the lockdown in countries around the world during the first wave of coronavirus. In particular, this paper posits that many of the policies undertaken were “extraordinary,” that is unlike those ever implemented or complemented by the leaders in charge at the start of the pandemic. Utilizing new and high-frequency data on government responses to COVID-19 and novel statistical techniques, the results of this analysis are that institutions and leadership attributes both matter, but for different policies; where the response called for more ‘normal” policies, it appeared that institutional mechanisms were adequate and played the largest role in influencing the extent of the lockdown. On the other hand, where the policies contemplated were very far from the ordinary (including stay-at-home orders or prohibitions on internal travel), the attributes of the leader determined the stringency of the lockdown more than institutions.

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