Political Legacies

53 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2017 Last revised: 14 Sep 2017

See all articles by Christian Fong

Christian Fong

Stanford University

Neil A. Malhotra

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Yotam Margalit

Tel Aviv University

Date Written: August 28, 2017


Politicians are widely perceived to lose significance upon leaving office. Yet media accounts often highlight politicians’ legacies as a source of influence that endures even after they retire. This article assesses these contrasting views by investigating the substance, endurance, and significance of political legacies. We develop a theoretical account of legacies and their relevance to contemporary politics, emphasizing that in addition to “hard legacies” — concrete and enduring policy achievements — politicians often establish “soft” legacies — memories enshrined in the public’s consciousness. Soft legacies can be, but are not necessarily, tied to the substance of one’s hard legacy. We ground our theoretical account empirically by testing a series of observable implications using data from online discussion forums, original surveys of both citizens and political elites, thousands of former politicians’ Wikipedia pages, and a randomized experiment. We find that establishing a lasting legacy is a key motivation of public officials. More generally, our findings provide substantial evidence that legacies influence contemporary policy debates long after a leader steps down.

Suggested Citation

Fong, Christian and Malhotra, Neil A. and Margalit, Yotam, Political Legacies (August 28, 2017). Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 17-57, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3028390 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3028390

Christian Fong

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Neil A. Malhotra (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Yotam Margalit

Tel Aviv University ( email )

Tel Aviv

HOME PAGE: http://www.ymargalit.net

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics