The outbreak of COVID-19 has called for swift action by governments, often involving the adoption of restrictive measures such as lockdowns. In this context, leaders have faced a trade-off between imposing stringent measures to limit the contagion, and minimizing the costs on their national economy, which could impact their electoral prospects. Leveraging on both the timing of elections and the constitutional term limits faced by leaders, we document how incumbents who can run for re-election implement less stringent restrictions when the election is closer in time. The effect is driven by measures more likely to have a negative economic impact. This shows how electoral concerns help explain the observed differences in the response to COVID-19 across different countries.