Article Highlight | 30-Jun-2022

How COVID-19 put poverty reduction back on the agenda

Study explores the political dynamics at play in Canada and the United States

McGill University

Lower income people bore the brunt of the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, efforts to reduce poverty were adopted in Canada and the United States. But how did partisan politics shape each government’s response? Exploring the political dynamics at play, a team of researchers including McGill University Professor Daniel Béland, traces the adoption and evolution of anti-poverty measures in both countries.

“The COVID-19 crisis helped trigger a political shift in the U.S. that saw Democrats take the White House and the Senate after many years of Republican control. This made the adoption and implementation of anti-poverty measures possible for the first time in a decade,” says Professor Daniel Béland of the Department of Political Science, who also serves as a Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. “Since 2011, Republican control of at least one chamber of Congress along with the four years of the Trump presidency prevented the adoption of ambitious policies capable of significantly reducing poverty,” says co-author Philip Rocco of Marquette University.

The United States has a two-party system. Since there isn’t a third social-democratic party, pressures for progressive policies come from social movements and factions within the Democratic Party itself, say the researchers. A crucial factor for the recent adoption of poverty reduction policies is the rise of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party over the last decade and the nomination and the election of more progressive candidates in the Senate.

“This contrasts with Canada, where the existence of the New Democratic Party (NDP) can push the Liberals to adopt more redistributive policies. Especially since the Liberal Party’s electoral strategy has remained unchanged: stealing votes from the social-democratic NDP to beat the Conservatives,” says co-author Shannon Dinan of Université Laval. According to the researchers, this strategy may help explain the anti-poverty leaning of some of the Liberal government’s policies.

“Studying these dynamics can give us a greater understanding of the politics of poverty reduction and help us anticipate what could happen in a future crisis,” says co-author Alex Waddan of University of Leicester.

"COVID-19, poverty reduction, and partisanship in Canada and the United States" by Daniel Béland et al. was published in Policy and Society.

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