Economic Recessions and Congressional Preferences for Redistribution
29 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2016 Last revised: 17 Dec 2019
Date Written: December 17, 2019
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 1957-2014. 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' privileged background.
Keywords: Recession, Redistribution, Members of the U.S. Congress, Impressionable years, Elites
JEL Classification: D31, D63, P16, Z13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation