Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



COVID-19, policy response, redundancies, democracy, authoritarian, federalism overlapping jurisdictions, institutions


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic represents an existential threat to societies around the world. There has been considerable variation in both rhetoric and policy responses among the many national governments. This piece explains how democratic institutions, in particular federalism, can impact the speed and degree of policy responses protecting citizens, even when national leaders share similar public rhetoric that is non-conducive to speedy policy response. Comparing the policies of United States and United Kingdom with the backdrop of their national leaders’ public stances, we argue that having multiple decision points due to the redundancy inherent in federalism increases the chances that a citizen will receive the “correct” policy, even when policy-makers at some levels of government put forth “wrong” policy responses. However, in unitary government, society must rely on the central leader to determine the “correct” policy as sub-national policy-makers are constrained by institutions in their ability to respond. That, due to inherent error probability, delays policy response.


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