Risk and Roll Calls: How Legislators' Personal Finances Shape Congressional Decisions
40 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2013 Last revised: 3 Jan 2014
Date Written: December 10, 2013
Does exposure to the stock market in legislators’ personal investment portfolios affect their vote choices? Do personal financial interests matter as much or more than the typical predictors of legislative decision-making such as party and constituency? I argue that legislator self-interest predicts more than just reelection-seeking behavior. Self-interest also suggests that legislators seek to maintain and protect their equity investments. I theorize that risk-averse legislators who have significant exposure to the stock market will make policy choices in order to avert market crashes and thus limit personal financial losses, and that legislators with little exposure to the market or who are risk accepting will not. Original data on the financial assets of members of Congress are collected and a novel measure of legislators’ revealed risk profiles is introduced. The empirical test is an examination of the eleventh-hour August 2011 U.S. House roll call to raise the U.S. debt limit. The findings show that risk-averse members of Congress with more money invested in the stock market were more likely to vote to increase the debt limit, presumably in order to avoid a market crash. The implications for the fields of political science, legislative decision-making, and finance are discussed.
Keywords: political science, legislatures, Congress, representation, tea party, debt limit, roll call voting, risk aversion, stock market, behavioral finance, finance, political parties, political economy
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