Seraphine Maerz, Amanda B. Edgell, Jean Lachapelle, Anna Lührmann | 2021

Pandemic backsliding: Violations of democratic standards during Covid-19

in: Social science & medicine, Volume 285

The widespread adoption of emergency powers during Covid-19 raises important questions about what constitutes a (un)democratic response to crises. While the institutions and practices of democracy during normal times are well established, democratic standards during emergencies have yet to be conceptualized in the literature. This makes it difficult to systematically answer questions like – How do states‘ responses to Covid-19 violate democratic standards? Do such violations make states‘ responses more effective? Drawing on international treaties, norms, and academic scholarship, we propose a novel conceptualization of democratic standards for emergency measures. We then identify which government responses to Covid-19 qualify as a violation of democratic standards within the framework of illiberal and authoritarian practices, introducing a dataset covering 144 countries from March 2020 onward. In this article, we provide an overview of the extent to which states violated democratic standards in their response to Covid-19 during 2020. We find no relationship between violations of democratic standards and reported Covid-19 mortality. Illiberal and authoritarian practices in response to the Covid-19 pandemic do not correlate with better public health outcomes. Rather, such crisis-driven violations should be carefully observed as they could signal autocratization.

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