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Association between democratic governance and excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic: an observational study


Background Excess mortality has been used to assess the overall health impact of COVID-19 across countries. Democracies aim to build trust in government and enable checks and balances on decision making, which may be useful in a pandemic. But during the pandemic, they have been criticised as being hesitant to enforce restrictive public health measures.

Methods Through linking open-access datasets we constructed univariable and multivariable linear regression models investigating the association between country V-Dem Liberal Democracy Indices (LDI), representing strength of democratic governance and excess mortality rates, from January 2020 to September 2021. We adjusted for several important confounders and conducted a range of sensitivity analyses to assess the robustness of our findings.

Results Across 78 countries, 4.19 million deaths million excess deaths were recorded. On multivariable regression, a one-point increase in V-Dem LDI was associated with a decrease in excess mortality of 2.18 per 100 000 (p=0.004), after accounting for age, gender, wealth and universal health coverage. This association was only partially attenuated by COVID-19 vaccination rates and remained robust in all sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions Democratic governance may have played an important role in mitigating the overall health impact of COVID-19 across countries. This study strengthens the case to broaden the scope of traditional pandemic risk assessment and discussions on preparedness.

  • COVID-19

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. The data underlying this article are all available through open-access datasets online. The data file used for analysis will be shared on reasonable request to the corresponding author.

This article is made freely available for personal use in accordance with BMJ’s website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

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