Local Sociotropism: How Community Variation in Trade Exposure Affects Voter Demands

20 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2018

Date Written: August 23, 2017


Recent elections in the United States and other countries have been marked by intense political rhetoric over the appropriate degrees of globalization and the distributional benefits from trade. Despite the pressing and immediate importance of trade-induced economic displacement for understanding populism and popular antiestablishment backlash across the world, we know very little about how exactly such trade-induced displacement affects voter behavior. What are the mechanisms that link community-level trade shocks to voting behavior? How do individual preferences explain large, localized electoral effects? In this paper, I develop an alternative to individual pocketbook and national sociotropic explanations. I present a theory of “local sociotropism,” which argues that an individual’s identification with their local community – a type of ‘place-based’ identity – catalyzes a feeling of community threat from trade and lowers sociotropic assessments of trade’s overall effects and of the economy on a whole. These local sociotropic assessments in turn affect political preferences, leading to increased anti-trade sentiment as well as greater support for anti-globalization politicians. My findings make theoretical contributions on the behavioral bases of trade preferences, as well as policy contributions on how governments can develop more effective policy responses to address socioeconomic concerns among those who perceive themselves to be losing from trade.

Keywords: Trade, Voting, Elections, Policy Preferences, China Shock, Trump

Suggested Citation

Alkon, Meir, Local Sociotropism: How Community Variation in Trade Exposure Affects Voter Demands (August 23, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3103852 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3103852

Meir Alkon (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

MA 02138
United States

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