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How Lasting Is Voter Gratitude? An Analysis of the Short‐ and Long‐Term Electoral Returns to Beneficial Policy

Michael M. Bechtel and Jens Hainmueller

American Journal of Political Science, 2011, vol. 55, issue 4, 852-868

Abstract: Dominant theories of electoral behavior emphasize that voters myopically evaluate policy performance and that this shortsightedness may obstruct the welfare‐improving effect of democratic accountability. However, we know little about how long governments receive electoral credit for beneficial policies. We exploit the massive policy response to a major natural disaster, the 2002 Elbe flooding in Germany, to provide an upper bound for the short‐ and long‐term electoral returns to targeted policy benefits. We estimate that the flood response increased vote shares for the incumbent party by 7 percentage points in affected areas in the 2002 election. Twenty‐five percent of this short‐term reward carried over to the 2005 election before the gains vanished in the 2009 election. We conclude that, given favorable circumstances, policy makers can generate voter gratitude that persists longer than scholarship has acknowledged so far, and elaborate on the implications for theories of electoral behavior, democratic accountability, and public policy.

Date: 2011
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