The COVID-19 pandemic created extraordinary challenges for governments to safeguard the well-being of their people. To what extent has leaders’ reliance on scientific advice shaped government responses to the COVID-19 outbreak? We argue that leaders who tend to orient themselves on expert advice realized the extent of the crisis earlier. Consequently, these governments would adopt containment measures relatively quickly, despite the high uncertainty they faced. Over time, differences in government responses based on the use of science would dissipate due to herding effects. We test our argument on data combining 163 government responses to the pandemic with national- and individual-level characteristics. Consistent with our argument, we find that countries governed by politicians with a stronger technocratic mentality, approximated by holding a PhD, adopted restrictive containment measures faster in the early, but not in the later, stages of the crisis. This importance of expert-based leadership plausibly extends to other large-scale societal crises.

Cite as

Forster, T. & Heinzel, M. 0001, 'Reacting, fast and slow: how world leaders shaped government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic', Journal of European Public Policy, 28(8), pp. 1299-1320. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2021.1942157

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