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Explaining Politicians' and Voters' Behavior

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - POLITICALMIND (Explaining Politicians' and Voters' Behavior)

Reporting period: 2018-02-01 to 2019-07-31

The project has focused on two main research questions. First, the role of political parties as organizational structures that shape political careers (i.e. who gets on top in democracies). Second, the impact of both campaign information disseminated by politicians and traumatic events (e.g. civil war or financial crises) on voters’ behavior.
Both research questions have been tackled empirically, combining the collection of original datasets (referred to Italy) with the implementation of state-of-the-art econometric strategies, namely, randomized controlled trials in the field, laboratory experiments, and regression discontinuity designs. In particular, the causal effects of campaign messages on voters’ beliefs and behaviors have been estimated by convincing real-world politicians to randomize a part of their campaign in Italian local elections.
In a set of studies on political party networks, we show the importance of internal networks and factions in shaping the careers of individual politicians within party organizations.
In a set of studies on the impact of traumatic event on voters’ behavior, we estimate the long-lasting effect of political violence on electoral outcomes. In particular, we exploit a geographic discontinuity in the intensity and duration of the Nazi occupation of Italy and civil war in 1943-45. We find that the Communist party gained votes in the postwar elections where the Nazi occupation and the civil war lasted longer. This effect persists until the early 1990s. The empirical evidence also suggests that this is due to an effect on political attitudes rather than party organizations. Thus, the foreign occupation and the civil war left a lasting legacy on the newborn Italian democracy.
In a set of studies on the impact of campaign messages by politicians, we document three original results thanks to both randomized political campaigns in the field and online survey experiments. First, there are stark gender differences in the response to negative campaigning, which appears to be effective with male voters but to be counterproductive with females. Second, there is causal evidence of cognitive dissonance in voting behavior. Third, negative campaigning produces spillover effects in multi-candidate environments, as both the receiver and the sender of the campaign attack lose votes in favor of third-party candidates.
The aforementioned studies shed light on the importance of party structures and internal networks on political selection (a topic that was under-studied in the political economics literature). They provide new evidence on the long-lasting effects of traumatic events on political systems. And, finally, they produce causal estimates on the short-run effects of campaign information on voters’ behavior.