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Competitive politics, simplified heuristics, and preferences for public goods

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Author Info

  • Felix Schlaepfer

    ()
    (Socioeconomic Institute, University of Zurich)

  • Marcel Schmitt

    ()
    (Economics Division, Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland)

  • Anna Roschewitz

    ()
    (Economics Division, Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland)

Abstract

This paper examines the role of simplified heuristics in the formation of preferences for public goods. Political scientists have suggested that voters use simplified heuristics based on the positions of familiar parties to infer how a proposed policy will affect them and to cast a vote in line with their interests and values. Here, we use a two-stage field-survey experiment to investigate how knowledge of party positions affects policy choices. We followed standard procedures in developing an attribute-based choice experiment on alternative land-use policies in Switzerland. In contrast to the usual formulation, however, the hypothetical costs of the proposed policies were formulated as a percentage change in taxes. The benefit of this formulation relative to the usual absolute money amounts is that the credibility of the (hypothetical) costs for respondents does not depend on respondent income. Furthermore, the formulation allowed us to solicit party positions on the proposed policies. Six out of eight contacted parties provided their positions. We then conducted a split-sample mail survey where we included a table of the party positions with a sub-sample of the questionnaires. We report six main experimental results. (1) The response rate of the survey was unaffected by the party positions. (2) The proportion of no-choice answers was decreased by forty percent relative to the control. (3) The party information significantly affected the choices directly and in interaction with respondents’ general attitudes towards public spending for nature and landscape conservation and thus affected the way how individuals mapped from general attitudes to preferences for specific policies. (4) The information interacted with educational level in only eight out of forty choice sets, suggesting that even the more educated relied on simplified heuristics. (5) Respondents who knew the party positions were more sensitive to the tax attribute. (6) For respondents with medium and higher tax bills, the resulting willingness-to-pay estimates were decreased by a factor of two to ten relative to the control. These findings suggest that the party information helped the respondents to articulate more consistent preferences than in the treatment without the party information.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Socioeconomic Institute - University of Zurich in its series SOI - Working Papers with number 0712.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in Ecological Economics 65, pp. 574-589, 2008
Handle: RePEc:soz:wpaper:0712

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Keywords: Bounded rationality; field experiment; stated preferences; voting behaviour;

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References

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Cavalcanti, Carina & Schläpfer, Felix & Schmid, Bernhard, 2008. "Public participation and willingness to cooperate in common-pool resource management: a field experiment with fishing communities in Brazil," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Zurich 2008 5, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
  2. Menzel, Susanne, 2013. "Are emotions to blame? — The impact of non-analytical information processing on decision-making and implications for fostering sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 71-78.
  3. Felix Schlaepfer & Baruch Fischhoff, 2010. "When Are Preferences Consistent? The Effects of Task Familiarity and Contextual Cues on Revealed and Stated Preferences," SOI - Working Papers 1007, Socioeconomic Institute - University of Zurich.
  4. Menzel, Susanne & Wiek, Arnim, 2009. "Valuation in morally charged situations: The role of deontological stances and intuition for trade-off making," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(8-9), pages 2198-2206, June.

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