Economic Recessions and Congressional Preferences for Redistribution
52 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2016 Last revised: 16 Aug 2017
Date Written: July 5, 2017
We analyze the roots of politicians' preferences for redistribution by exploring whether early life experiences have persistent, long-run effects on U.S. Members of Congress' voting records. We study whether having experienced an economic recession during early adulthood affected their positions on redistribution-specific bills during the period 1957-2012. We find that politicians who experienced a recession hold more conservative positions on redistribution, even compared to members of the same party in the same legislature. We rule out alternative accounts and show that experiencing a recession directly affects future politicians' personal preferences. In light of recent empirical evidence showing that voters become more supportive of redistribution following a recession, our findings suggest that macroeconomic shocks have a polarizing effect: recessions can create an ideological wedge between voters and their future representatives. We present two pieces of evidence suggesting that this wedge can be explained by politicians' more privileged background.
Keywords: Recession, Redistribution, Members of Congress, Impressionable years
JEL Classification: D31, D63, P16, Z13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation