Do Welfare Benefits Pay Electoral Dividends? Evidence from the Food Stamp Program Rollout
39 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2016 Last revised: 25 May 2019
Date Written: May 23, 2019
Growing evidence suggests that pocketbook considerations influence voting behavior in the U.S. and other developed countries and that incumbents can use targeted government benefits to win voter support. It remains unclear whether the general relationship between government spending and incumbent support also holds for means-tested welfare programs, however. I contribute to this empirical literature by taking advantage of the decade-long rollout of the American Food Stamp Program. The staggered timing of local program implementation allows me to credibly estimate the causal effect of this new benefit on election outcomes. Overall, I find that Democrats -- at the center of the program's enacting coalition -- gained votes when the program was implemented locally, apparently through mobilization of new supporters rather than the conversion of political opponents.
Keywords: welfare state, policy feedback, food stamps, distributive politics, retrospective voting, pocketbook voting
JEL Classification: H00, H5, H53, H7, H75, I3, I38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation