WP174: Disease, disaster, and disengagement: Ebola and political participation in Sierra Leone


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Burial teams of volunteers in Guinea, wearing full personal protective equipment and working in teams of seven, desinfects themselves after carrying the body of a 40 year-old woman who died from Ebola virus and will be transported from the MSF Treatment Center at Donka Hospital to the Conakry Cemetary for a safe burial. Photo courtesy of UN Photo on Flickr: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Working papers
Benjamin Crisman

How do widespread public health crises affect individual attitudes and political behavior? Infectious diseases are ubiquitous in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the intensity and frequency of outbreaks are increasing (Smith et al., 2014) and expected to continue to increase in the face of climate change (Altizer, Ostfeld, Johnson, Kutz, & Harvell, 2013), rising antibacterial resistance (Jones et al., 2008), and deforestation (Wolfe, Daszak, Kilpatrick, & Burke, 2005). In the case of Ebola virus disease (EVD), these outbreaks are becoming more deadly (Diehl et al., 2016). While the negative consequences of persistent disease burden on economic outcomes is well known, as in the case of malaria (Sachs & Malaney, 2002) or HIV/AIDS (Whiteside, 2002), the consequences of disease crises on political development is less clear.

In this article, I explore the relationship between Ebola exposure in the West African Ebola outbreak and political participation using individual responses from Afrobarometer Round 6 (2015) survey data in Sierra Leone. This work joins a growing body of literature examining the consequences of exposure to large-scale crises and traumatic events on political participation, collective action, cooperation, and a variety of prosocial preferences. The majority of this literature identifies a consistent, positive, and arguably causal link between the two. In a recent overview and meta-analysis of post-conflict scenarios, Bauer et al., (2016) find that individuals and communities more affected by wartime exposure to violence consistently exhibit higher levels of cooperation and altruism. These results hold across a variety of settings, whether the outcome measures come from survey data as in the case of Bellows and Miguel (2009) or from experimental games as in Voors et al. (2012), and across varying types of violence. Blattman (2009) provides evidence that this increase in prosociality can sometimes be observed in its effects on political participation.

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