Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure

63 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2016

See all articles by David H. Autor

David H. Autor

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

David Dorn

University of Zurich - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Gordon H. Hanson

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Kaveh Majlesi

Lund University; Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 2016

Abstract

Has rising import competition contributed to the polarization of U.S. politics? Analyzing outcomes from the 2002 and 2010 congressional elections and the 2000, 2008, and 2016 presidential elections, we detect an ideological realignment that is centered in trade-exposed local labor markets and that commences prior to the divisive 2016 U.S. presidential election. Exploiting the exogenous component of rising trade with China and classifying legislator ideologies by congressional voting records, we find strong evidence that congressional districts exposed to larger increases in import penetration disproportionately removed moderate representatives from office in the 2000s. Trade-exposed districts with an initial majority white population or initially in Republican hands became substantially more likely to elect a conservative Republican, while trade-exposed districts with an initial majority-minority population or initially in Democratic hands also become more likely to elect a liberal Democrat. In presidential elections, counties with greater trade exposure shifted towards the Republican candidate. We interpret these results as supporting a political economy literature that connects adverse economic conditions to support for nativist or extreme politicians.

Suggested Citation

Autor, David H. and Dorn, David and Hanson, Gordon H. and Majlesi, Kaveh, Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure (September 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22637. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2840585

David H. Autor (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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David Dorn

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics

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CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute) ( email )

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Gordon H. Hanson

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IRPS) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Kaveh Majlesi

Lund University ( email )

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Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) ( email )

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

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Germany

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