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How Spanish Flu led to voter extremism in Germany (1918-1933)..

Summary:
Papers are coming thick and fast. Kristian S. Blickle of NY Fed in this paper: We merge several historical data sets from Germany to show that influenza mortality in 1918-1920 is correlated with societal changes, as measured by municipal spending and city-level extremist voting, in the subsequent decade. First, influenza deaths are associated with lower per capita spending, especially on services consumed by the young. Second, influenza deaths are correlated with the share of votes received by extremist parties in 1932 and 1933. Our election results are robust to controlling for city spending, demographics, war-related population changes, city-level wages, and regional unemployment, and to instrumenting influenza mortality. We conjecture that our findings may be the consequence of

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Papers are coming thick and fast.

Kristian S. Blickle of NY Fed in this paper:

We merge several historical data sets from Germany to show that influenza mortality in 1918-1920 is correlated with societal changes, as measured by municipal spending and city-level extremist voting, in the subsequent decade. First, influenza deaths are associated with lower per capita spending, especially on services consumed by the young. Second, influenza deaths are correlated with the share of votes received by extremist parties in 1932 and 1933. Our election results are robust to controlling for city spending, demographics, war-related population changes, city-level wages, and regional unemployment, and to instrumenting influenza mortality. We conjecture that our findings may be the consequence of long-term societal changes brought about by a pandemic.

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We are able to document several important findings. First, we show that areas which experienced a greater relative population decline due to the spread of influenza spend less, per-capita, on their inhabitants in the following decade. This holds especially for spending on amenities more likely to be
consumed by the young, for example school funding.

Second, influenza deaths of 1918 are correlated with an increase in the share of votes won by right-wing extremists, such as the National Socialist
Workers Party (aka. the Nazi Party), in the crucial elections of 1932 and 1933. This holds even when we control for a city’s ethnic and religious makeup, regional unemployment, past right-wing voting, and other local characteristics assumed to drive the extremist vote share. A one std. deviation increase in
the proportion of the population killed by influenza was associated with an up to 3% increase in the share of the vote won by the national socialist party. This phenomenon is not observed for other parties also considered “extremist”, such as the communists, or influenced by deaths due to common diseases,
such as tuberculosis. Moreover, while we corroborate evidence by Galofré-Vilà et al. (2019) and show that the amount local governments spend on their inhabitants is correlated with the share of the vote won by extremist parties, we also show that this is not the driver of our results.

They use railway lines as density:

Our results on the correlation between influenza mortality in 1918 and extremist voting in 1932/33 hold for a number of important tests. Firtsly, we can instrument influenza mortality using the length and density of local railway lines in 1918. Holding population density and wealth constant, pandemics
are more likely to spread in areas that are more densely connected. We argue that our instrument does not influence election results directly, as the vote share won by right wing extremist was actually slightly higher in rural areas with less dense train networks.

Secondly, following Voigtländer and Voth (2012a), we show that the correlation between influenza mortality and the vote share won by right-wing extremists is stronger in regions that had historically blamed minorities, particularly Jews, for medieval plagues.

Our findings are possibly tied to the type of victims most directly affected by the virus. Given that it was disproportionately fatal for young people, the change in demographics may have affected regional attitudes going forward. Moreover, the disease may have fostered a hatred of “others”, as it was
perceived to come from abroad.

An increase in foreigner/minority hate has been shown by Cohn (2012) or Voigtländer and Voth (2012a) to occur during some severe historical plagues. Regions more affected by the pandemic may have gravitated towards political parties aligned with anti minority sentiment.

Amol Agrawal
I am currently pursuing my PhD in economics. I have work-ex of nearly 10 years with most of those years spent figuring economic research in Mumbai’s financial sector.

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