Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 12 > Issue 1

Natural Disasters and Political Engagement: Evidence from the 2010–11 Pakistani Floods

C. Christine Fair, Georgetown University, USA, Ccf33@georgetown.edu , Patrick M. Kuhn, University of Durham, UK, p.m.kuhn@durham.ac.uk , Neil Malhotra, Stanford Graduate School of Business, USA, neilm@stanford.edu , Jacob N. Shapiro, Princeton University, USA, jns@princeton.edu
Suggested Citation
C. Christine Fair, Patrick M. Kuhn, Neil Malhotra and Jacob N. Shapiro (2017), "Natural Disasters and Political Engagement: Evidence from the 2010–11 Pakistani Floods", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 12: No. 1, pp 99-141. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00015075

Publication Date: 16 May 2017
© 2017 C. Christine Fair, P. M. Kuhn, N. Malhotra, and J. N. Shapiro
Comparative political economy,  Electoral behavior
Natural disastersElectoral behaviorVoter turnoutPakistan


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In this article:
The Pakistani Floods 2010–2011: A Major Natural Disaster with Relatively Good Response 
Data Sources and Measurements 
Empirical Strategy 


How natural disasters affect politics in developing countries is an important question, given the fragility of fledgling democratic institutions in some of these countries as well as likely increased exposure to natural disasters over time due to climate change. Research in sociology and psychology suggests traumatic events can inspire pro-social behavior and therefore might increase political engagement. Research in political science argues that economic resources are critical for political engagement and thus the economic dislocation from disasters may dampen participation. We argue that when the government and civil society response effectively blunts a disaster's economic impacts, then political engagement may increase as citizens learn about government capacity. Using diverse data from the massive 2010–11 Pakistan floods, we find that Pakistanis in highly flood-affected areas turned out to vote at substantially higher rates three years later than those less exposed. We also provide speculative evidence on the mechanism. The increase in turnout was higher in areas with lower ex ante flood risk, which is consistent with a learning process. These results suggest that natural disasters may not necessarily undermine civil society in emerging developing democracies.