Do Nonpartisan Programmatic Policies Have Partisan Electoral Effects? Evidence from Two Large Scale Randomized Experiments

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Do Nonpartisan Programmatic Policies Have Partisan Electoral Effects? Evidence from Two Large Scale Randomized Experiments

Abstract:

A vast literature demonstrates that voters around the world who benefit from their governments' discretionary spending cast ballots for the incumbent party in larger proportions than those not receiving funds. But surprisingly, and contrary to most theories of political accountability, the evidence seems to indicate that voters also reward incumbent parties for implementing ``programmatic'' spending legislation, passed with support from all major parties, and over which incumbents have no discretion. Why voters would attribute responsibility when none exists is unclear, as is why minority party legislators would approve of legislation that will cost them votes. We address this puzzle with one of the largest randomized social experiments ever, resulting in clear rejection of the claim that programmatic policies greatly increase voter support for incumbents. We also reanalyze the study cited as claiming the strongest support for the electoral effects of programmatic policies, which is also a very large scale randomized experiment. We show that its key results vanish after correcting either a simple coding error affecting only two observations or highly unconventional data analysis procedures (or both). We also discuss how these consistent empirical results from the only two probative experiments on this question may be reconciled with several observational and theoretical studies touching on similar questions in other contexts.