The impact of 2020 French municipal elections on the spread of COVID-19

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Soon after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the French government decided to still hold the first round of the 2020 municipal elections as scheduled on March 15. What was the impact of these elections on the spread of COVID-19 in France? Answering this question leads to intricate econometric issues as omitted variables may drive both epidemiological dynamics and electoral turnout, and as a national lockdown was imposed at almost the same time as the elections. In order to disentangle the effect of the elections from that of confounding factors, we first predict each department’s epidemiological dynamics using information up to the election. We then take advantage of differences in electoral turnout across departments to identify the impact of the election on prediction errors in hospitalizations. We report a detrimental effect of the first round of the election on hospitalizations in locations that were already at relatively advanced stages of the epidemic. Estimates suggest that the elections accounted for at least 3,000 hospitalizations, or 11% of all hospitalizations by the end of March. Given the sizable health cost of holding elections during an epidemic, promoting ways of voting that reduce exposure to COVID-19 is key until the pandemic shows signs of abating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-988
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Population Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Electoral turnout
  • Hospitalizations
  • Municipal elections
  • Prediction errors


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