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Delivering the Vote: The Political Effect of Free Mail Delivery in Early Twentieth Century America

Elisabeth Perlman and Steven Sprick Schuster ()

The Journal of Economic History, 2016, vol. 76, issue 3, 769-802

Abstract: The rollout of Rural Free Delivery (RFD) in the early twentieth century dramatically increased the frequency with which rural voters received information. This article examines the effect of RFD on voters' and Representatives' behavior using a panel dataset and instrumental variables. Communities receiving more routes spread their votes to more parties; there is no evidence it changed turnout. RFD shifted positions taken by Representatives in line with rural constituents, including increased support for pro-temperance and anti-immigration policies. These results appear only in counties with newspapers, supporting the hypothesis that information flows play a crucial role in the political process. “As the whole world has been drawn closer together by the inventions and uses of steam and electricity, so farmers may be drawn closer together by the universal practice of free delivery.†—Matthew Williams of Verndale, Minnesota as quoted in the 1900 Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture

Date: 2016
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Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:76:y:2016:i:03:p:769-802_00