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Fifty Million Voters Can't Be Wrong: Economic Self-Interest and Redistributive Politics

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  • Jacob L. Vigdor

Abstract

Why do voters at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum support political candidates who generally disfavor redistributive policies? Existing explanations often presume that voters are explicitly acting in opposition to their economic self-interest, or that they hold persistently optimistic expectations regarding the probability of moving into the upper ranks of the income distribution. This paper provides an alternative economic explanation. When voters evaluate their well-being by making relative utility comparisons, support for redistribution depends not only on absolute income but on one's status relative to a reference group. When reference groups are defined geographically, support depends on exposure to higher-income neighbors. The predictions of the model are supported by empirical evidence drawn from county-level election returns in 1980 and 2000, and by individual-level polling data following the 2000 election.

Suggested Citation

  • Jacob L. Vigdor, 2006. "Fifty Million Voters Can't Be Wrong: Economic Self-Interest and Redistributive Politics," NBER Working Papers 12371, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12371
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    Cited by:

    1. Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh & John F. Helliwell, 2008. "Empathy and Emulation: Life Satisfaction and the Urban Geography of Comparison Groups," NBER Working Papers 14593, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Roland Iwan Luttens & Marie-Anne Valfort, 2012. "Voting for Redistribution under Desert-Sensitive Altruism," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 114(3), pages 881-907, September.
    3. Andreas Georgiadis & Alan Manning, 2012. "Spend it like Beckham? Inequality and redistribution in the UK, 1983–2004," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 151(3), pages 537-563, June.
    4. Brunner, Eric & Ross, Stephen L. & Washington, Ebonya, 2008. "Economics and Ideology: Causal Evidence of the Impact of Economic Conditions on Support for Redistribution and Other Ballot Proposal," Working Papers 50, Yale University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household

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