Preferences for Centralized Decision-Making in Times of Crisis: The COVID-19 Pandemic in Germany

(with Roni Lehrer, Annelies G. Blom, Alexander Wenz, Tobias Rettig, Ulrich Krieger, Marina Fikel, Carina Cornesse, Elias Naumann, Katja Möhring, and Maximiliane Reifenscheid)
Jahrbuch für Handlungs- und Entscheidungstheorie

The health crisis caused by the rapid spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) poses enormous challenges to governments around the globe. Far-reaching measures have to be enacted, and even a slight delay can have fatal negative consequences. The necessity for swift and resolute governmental action constitutes a particular predicament for federal democracies like Germany in which the regular decision-making process requires not only time for parliamentary scrutiny but also the coordination of multiple actors and interests at different levels of government. In this context, calls for centralized decision-making and expanded executive discretion are frequent. This study uses daily panel data from the Mannheim Corona Study collected during the first wave of the pandemic to investigate factors that influence respondents' propensity to grant additional discretionary powers to the German federal government. Based on insights from the crisis management literature, we explore the effects of decentralized policy responses, trust in government, satisfaction with the government and parliament, and personal threat perceptions on individual preferences for centralized decision-making. The results show that, while trust in government before the pandemic has a minor impact, state-level policy heterogeneity and individual threat perceptions strongly increase the likelihood to support the centralization of decision-making competencies.

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