Gender, Electoral Incentives, and Crisis Response: Preliminary Evidence from Brazilian Mayors

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Aug 2021
While there is evidence of gender differences in policy preferences and electoral strategic behaviors, less is known about how these differences play out during crises. We use a close election RD design to compare the performance of female- and male-led Brazilian municipalities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We find that having a female mayor led to more deaths per capita early in the first wave of the pandemic -a period characterized by great uncertainty about the severity of the disease and the effectiveness of containment policies. In contrast, having a female mayor led to fewer deaths per capita early in the second wave -a period where this uncertainty was reduced, and when the 2020 mayoral election took place. Consistent with the evolution of deaths, we find that female mayors were less likely to implement commerce restrictions at the beginning of the period, while they became more likely to do so at the end. We also show that the second-wave effect coincides with a lower tendency of the population in maleled municipalities to stay at home around election day. Both the first and second wave effects are driven by municipalities whose mayors were not term limited, and thus allowed to run for re-election. These findings suggest that the gender differences we observe stem from female and male mayors reacting differently to electoral incentives. While electorally motivated female mayors were more likely to delay restrictive policies at the beginning, electorally motivated male mayors were more likely to open-up the municipality closer to the election.