Research

Publications:

Making Unequal Democracy Work? The Effects of Income on Voter Turnout in Northern Italy. with Giorgio Bellettini, Carlotta Berti Ceroni, and Enrico Cantoni. Forthcoming in American Journal of Political Science.  Link. 

In many democracies, voter turnout is higher among the rich than the poor. But do changes in income lead to changes in electoral participation? We address this question with unique administrative data matching a decade of individual tax records with voter rolls in a large municipality in northern Italy. We document several important findings. First, levels of income and turnout both dropped disproportionately among relatively poor citizens following the Great Recession. Second, we show that the effects of within-individual changes in income are modest on average, but can significantly impact participation among the poor. Third, we find that declining turnout of voters facing economic insecurity has exacerbated the income skew in electoral participation. This provides suggestive evidence that income inequality and turnout inequality may reinforce each other. We discuss the theoretical implications of these results, set in a context with strong civic traditions and low barriers to voting.

When Time is of the Essence: A Natural Experiment on How Time Constraints Influence Elections. with John Holbein. Journal of Politics.  Link.

Abstract: Foundational theories of voter turnout suggest that many people don’t vote because they don’t have enough time. However, we possess little causal evidence about how time-based inputs affect electoral behavior. In this article, we employ a novel geographic regression discontinuity design that leverages U.S. time zone boundaries, and show that exogenous shifts in time allocations have significant political consequences. Namely, we find that all-else-equal citizens are less likely to vote if they live on the eastern side of the border. Time zones also appear to exacerbate participatory inequality and push election results towards Republicans. Exploring potential mechanisms, we find suggestive evidence that these effects are downstream consequences of insufficient sleep and are moderated by the convenience of voting. Regardless of the exact mechanisms, our results indicate that plausibly exogenous disruptions in daily schedules make it more difficult to find time to vote and significantly affect the composition of the electorate.

Insufficient Sleep Reduces Voting and Other Prosocial Behaviors. with John Holbein and David Dickinson. Nature Human Behaviour. Link. 

Abstract: Insufficient sleep is a growing public health concern in industrial societies. While a lack of sleep is known to negatively affect private behaviors—like working or going to school—comparatively little is known about its consequences for the social behaviors that hold society and democracy together. Using three complementary methods, here we show how insufficient sleep affects various measures of civic participation. With survey data from two countries, we show that insufficient sleep predicts lower voter turnout. Next, with a geographic regression discontinuity design we demonstrate that U.S. individuals who tend to sleep less due to circadian impacts of time-zone boundaries are also less likely to vote. Finally, we experimentally manipulate short-term sleep over a two-stage study. We observe that the treatment decreases levels of civic engagement as comprised by their willingness to vote, sign petitions, and donate to charities. These results highlight the strong negative consequences that current levels of insufficient sleep have on vitally important measures of social capital.

Delayed Gratification in Political Participation. Forthcoming in American Politics Research. Link. 

Abstract: Delayed gratification is associated with myriad desirable outcomes — like eating right and saving money. In this article, I explore whether it also increases political participation. To this end, I provide an explicit decision-theoretic framework, which predicts that less patient individuals are less willing to vote and to donate; these forms of participation are costly before Election Day, but their rewards are partially delayed. I then discuss how to elicit individual time preferences with real monetary incentives. In the empirical analysis, I provide evidence from a representative U.S. survey showing that monetary discount rates predict turnout and donations. Though mostly correlational and exploratory, these findings hold when controlling for a host of potential confounds. Overall, my results indicate that impatient types are less likely to prepare for and ultimately participate in elections. This sheds light on when and how deep psychological traits constrain political decisions involving a trade-off over time.

Turnout in Concurrent Elections: Evidence from Two Quasi-Experiments in Italy. with Enrico Cantoni and Ludovica Gazze. Forthcoming in European Journal of Political Economy. Link. 

We study the effects of different types of concurrent elections using individual-level administrative and survey data from Italy. Exploiting different voting ages for the two Houses of Parliament in a voter-level Regression Discontinuity Design, we find no effect of Senate voting eligibility on voter turnout or information acquisition. We also estimate city-level Differences-in- Differences showing that concurrent high-salience municipal elections increase turnout in lower-salience provincial and European elections, but not vice-versa. Moreover, concurrency effects are concentrated in municipalities in the South of Italy with weaker political parties and lower levels of social capital.

European Commission Officials’ Policy Attitudes. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 52(4), 911-927. Link.

European Commission officials are usually thought to prefer more to less supranational authority. A large body of work assumes that they maximize the power of their organization. This study suspends a priori preference attribution and empirically investigates variation in support for supranational authority over five policy areas. The analysis uses Kassim et al.’s survey data from 2008 (N = 1,901). The first finding in this paper is that Commission officials do not systematically prefer more supranational decision-making. Following the logic of fiscal federalism, they support changes in EU policy scope to the extent that this would improve public good provision. The second finding, taking a political psychology perspective, is that individual calculations of efficiency are mediated by ideological beliefs. Because issues are complex and information is costly, Commission officials rely on heuristics to assess what the European Union should do. They are biased information-processors.

Working Papers:

Modern Family? Gender and Voting Participation over the Life-Cycle with Giorgio Bellettini, Carlotta Berti Ceroni, Enrico Cantoni, and Chiara Monfardini. Under Review.  Link. 

In many democracies, gender differences in voter turnout have narrowed or even reversed, on average. Yet, it appears that women participate more in some circumstances, and men in others. Focusing on family transitions–marriage and having children–we show that male and female voters have different turnout trajectories over the life-cycle. To this end, we leverage a unique administrative panel dataset from Italy, an established democracy where traditional family structures remain important. Our difference-in-differences estimates show that marriage equalizes turnout among spouses, increasing men’s participation to women’s higher pre-marital levels. We also find that infants depress maternal turnout, whereas primary school children stimulate paternal turnout. Exploring potential mechanisms, we find suggestive evidence that peer pressure within couples drives the marriage effects, whereas gender imbalance in household responsibilities explains the asymmetric parenthood effects. Taken together, our results highlight the important role of gender and family in recent trends in voting participation.

Time-Inconsistency and the Framing of Policy Alternatives in Competitive Democracies. Working Paper.

This article investigates how voter psychology constrains policies that impose immediate costs in order to gain benefits in the future. I develop a theoretical framework of how individuals form their policy preferences in an uncertain and competitive environment. While voters are concerned about whether future benefits will be delivered as promised, elected officials attempt to reduce uncertainty with institutional commitment devices such as trust funds. However, these policy instruments are often vulnerable to counter-frames that question the credibility of commitments. This article considers hypotheses about the conditions under which framing the institutional context of a policy may influence public opinion. In the empirical analysis, I conduct a series of survey experiments to explore the consequences of competitive framing for long-term policy challenges such as social security reform and investments in infrastructure. Results indicate that allocating money to a trust fund may not increase support for new investments, but may help to sustain pre-existing government programs.

A Chicken in Every Pot? The Political Consequences of a Large Wealth Shock in the Western United States. with Mathias Bühler. Working Paper. Link.

We study the political consequences of a large wealth transfer to the rural population following the Great Depression. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 placed 142 million acres under public ownership and documented the rights to access these lands for nearby farmers. These property rights on public land rapidly increased farmers’ wealth as they were an accepted collateral and influenced the value of a farm. Analyzing county-level differences-in-differences, we show that areas affected by this policy were initially more likely to elect a Democratic congressman, but this effect dissipated quickly after the policy was implemented. Placebo estimates show that this wealth effect was distinct from other changes in economic conditions. We also use survey evidence to discern this effect from long-term trends in public opinion. Taken together, our results indicate that voters strategically responded to the policy’s benefits, thus providing evidence of sophisticated economic voting in the New Deal era.