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Is the median voter decisive? Evidence from referenda voting patterns

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  • Brunner, Eric J.
  • Ross, Stephen L.

Abstract

This paper examines whether the voter with the median income is decisive in local spending decisions. Previous tests have relied on cross-sectional data while we make use of a pair of California referenda to estimate a first difference specification. The referenda proposed to lower the required vote share for passing local educational bonding initiatives from 67 to 50% and 67 to 55%, respectively. We find that voters rationally consider future public service decisions when deciding how to vote on voting rules. However, the empirical evidence strongly suggests that an income percentile below the median is decisive for majority voting rules, especially in communities that have a large share of high-income voters with attributes that suggest low demand for public services. Based on a model that explicitly recognizes that each community contains voters with both high and low demand for public school spending, we also find that an increase in the share of low demand voters is associated with a lower decisive voter income percentile for the high demand group. This two type model implies that our low demand types (individuals over age 45 with no children) have demands that are 45% lower than other voters. Collectively, these findings are consistent with high-income voters with weak preferences for public educational services voting with the poor against increases in public spending on education.

Suggested Citation

  • Brunner, Eric J. & Ross, Stephen L., 2010. "Is the median voter decisive? Evidence from referenda voting patterns," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(11-12), pages 898-910, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:94:y:2010:i:11-12:p:898-910
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