We examine the roles of sub-national and national governments in Canada and the United States vis-à-vis the protective public health response in the onset phase of the global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This period was characterized in both countries by incomplete information as well as by uncertainty regarding which level of government should be responsible for which policies. The crisis represents an opportunity to study how national and sub-national governments respond to such policy challenges. In this article, we present a unique dataset that catalogues the policy responses of US states and Canadian provinces as well as those of the respective federal governments: the Protective Policy Index (PPI). We then compare the United States and Canada along several dimensions, including the absolute values of sub-national levels of the index relative to the total protections enjoyed by citizens, the relationship between early threat (as measured by the mortality rate near the start of the public health crisis) and the evolution of the PPI, and finally the institutional and legislative origins of the protective health policies. We find that the sub-national contribution to policy is more important for both the United States and Canada than are their national-level policies, and it is unrelated in scope to our early threat measure. We also show that the institutional origin of the policies as evidenced by the COVID-19 response differs greatly between the two countries and has implications for the evolution of federalism in each.
2. Shvetsova, Zhirnov, VanDusky-Allen, Adeel, et al. (2020), “Institutional Origins of Protective COVID-19 Public Health Policy Responses: Informational and Authority Redundancies and Policy Stringency”, Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy: Vol. 1: No. 4, pp 585-613.
In this essay, we argue that institutional systems that allow redundancies in information channels and in policy-making are more likely to generate a rapid policy response to crises such as the onset of COVID-19 pandemic than more streamlined systems. Since democracies and decentralized polities feature higher informational and authority redundancies, we theorize improved crisis response in democracies, and in more decentralized democracies.
To assess our theoretical expectations, we construct an original data set of stringency of policy measures that were adopted in response to COVID-19 by governments at different levels in 64~countries between January and May 2020. We find that democracies and liberal democracies responded to COVID-19 stronger and faster. Federalism and decentralization in addition to democratic institutions played a less uniform, but still a positive role. Beyond their other acknowledged merits, democratic institutions have superior capacity to mount a quick policy response to unqualified threats.
This essay examines the policy response of the federal and regional governments in federations to the COVID-19 crisis. We theorize that the COVID-19 policy response in federations is an outcome of strategic interaction among the federal and regional incumbents in the shadow of their varying accountability for health and the repercussions from the disruptive consequences of public health measures. Using the data from the COVID-19 Public Health Protective Policy Index Project, we study how the variables suggested by our theory correlate with the overall stringency of public health measures in federations as well as the contribution of the federal government to the making of these policies. Our results suggest that the public health measures taken in federations are at least as stringent as those in non-federations, and there is a cluster of federations on which a bulk of crisis policy making is carried by subnational governments. We find that the contribution of the federal government is, on average, higher in parliamentary systems; it appears to decline with the proximity of the next election in presidential republics, and to increase with the fragmentation of the legislative party system in parliamentary systems. Our analysis also suggests that when the federal government carries a significant share of responsibility for healthcare provision, it also tends to play a higher role in taking non-medical steps in response to the pandemic.
We have developed and made accessible for multidisciplinary audience a unique global dataset of the behavior of political actors during the COVID-19 pandemic as measured by their policy-making efforts to protect their publics. The dataset presents consistently coded cross-national data at subnational and national levels on the daily level of stringency of public health policies by level of government overall and within specific policy categories, and reports branches of government that adopted these policies. The data on these public mandates of protective behaviors is collected from media announcements and government publications. The dataset allows comparisons of governments’ policy efforts and timing across the world and can serve as a source of information on policy determinants of pandemic outcomes–both societal and possibly medical.