Restoring Rights, Restoring Trust: Evidence that Reversing Felony Disenfranchisement Penalties Increases Both Trust and Cooperation with Government
44 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2018 Last revised: 18 Sep 2020
Date Written: October 25, 2018
More than six million American citizens were denied the right to vote in the 2016 Presidential Election because they had been convicted of a felony crime. Beyond the effects of these laws on voter turnout and electoral outcomes, how do felony disenfranchisement laws affect the citizens who are being disenfranchised? This study estimates the effects of restoring voting rights on the level of political trust among citizens who were formerly disenfranchised. Two field experiments are embedded within panel surveys conducted before and after statewide elections in Ohio and Virginia. The survey population is composed of American citizens with a felony conviction who were once disenfranchised, but now are either eligible to vote, or are eligible to have their voting rights restored. Both experiments leverage misinformation about voting rights policies as an opportunity to estimate how people respond when they receive new information about more lenient voting rights restoration policies. Experimental treatments randomly increase awareness about restored voting rights, along with varying encouragements and assistance with registration and voting. In both experiments, treated subjects report stronger trust in government and the criminal justice system, perceive government as being more fair and representative, and report an increased willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. The results suggest that restoring voting rights to disenfranchised citizens helps those citizens develop the types of pro-democratic attitudes commonly associated with successful post-prison re-entry, reduced tendencies to commit crime, and lower rates of recidivism.
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