How Lasting is Voter Gratitude? An Analysis of the Short- and Long-Term Electoral Returns to Beneficial Policy

34 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2010 Last revised: 7 Nov 2011

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in Saint Louis

Jens Hainmueller

Stanford University - Department of Political Science; Stanford Graduate School of Business; Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

Date Written: April 2011

Abstract

Dominant theories of electoral behavior emphasize that voters myopically evaluate policy performance and that this shortsightedness may obstruct the welfare-improving effect of democratic accountability. However, we know little about how long governments receive electoral credit for beneficial policies. We exploit the massive policy response to a major natural disaster, the 2002 Elbe flooding in Germany, to provide an upper bound for the short- and long-term electoral returns to targeted policy benefits. We estimate that the flood response increased vote shares for the incumbent party by 7 percentage points in affected areas in the 2002 election. Twenty-five percent of this short-term reward carried over to the 2005 election before the gains vanished in the 2009 election. We conclude that, given favorable circumstances, policy makers can generate voter gratitude that persists longer than scholarship has acknowledged so far, and elaborate on the implications for theories of electoral behavior, democratic accountability, and public policy.

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Hainmueller, Jens, How Lasting is Voter Gratitude? An Analysis of the Short- and Long-Term Electoral Returns to Beneficial Policy (April 2011). American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 55, pp. 852–868. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1718983

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in Saint Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Jens Hainmueller

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.stanford.edu/~jhain/

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

30 Alta Road
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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