The political cost of sanctions: evidence from COVID-19



Year of publication 2022
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Health Policy
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Economics and Administration

Keywords COVID-19; Lockdown; Law enforcement; Altruistic punishment; Survey data
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Description We use survey data to study how trust in government and consensus for the pandemic policy response vary with the propensity for altruistic punishment in Italy, the early epicenter of the pandemic. Approval for the government’s management of the crisis decreases with the size of the penalties that individuals would like to see enforced for lockdown violations. People supporting stronger punishment are more likely to consider the government’s reaction to the pandemic as insufficient. However, after the establishment of tougher sanctions for risky behaviors, we observe a sudden flip in support for the government. Higher amounts of the desired fines become associated with a higher probability of considering the government’s policy response as too extreme, lower trust in government, and lower confidence in the truthfulness of the officially provided information. These results suggest that lockdowns entail a political cost that helps explain why democracies may adopt epidemiologically suboptimal policies.
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