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Departmental Seminar: The Power of Political Leadership

Wednesday, October 20, 2021, 1:30 pm – 3:10 pm

A well-functioning democracy requires that citizens are given enough information to evaluate the decisions of political leaders.  Therefore, taking political leadership in a democracy implies that political leaders take responsibility for their decisions and are open about the consequences of policy – even if this policy carry concentrated costs for some part of the electorate. In spite of this, several prominent literatures in political science show that politicians are strategic in how they design and communicate policy. But how would citizens respond in the counterfactual situation where political leaders were open about – and took responsibility for – the consequences of policy?  In this article, we try to answer this question by studying the power of political leadership in the context of a property tax reform in Denmark, which tried to make the tax system more just and sustainable, but imposed large costs on owners of expensive apartments. Different features of the reform allow us to credibly manipulate information regarding which party was responsible for and the personal economic consequences of this reform. We do this in a field experiment with survey outcomes. We find that even when political parties are forthright about the consequences of policies with concentrated cost, they can avoid electoral punishment among those who bear this cost, and they can even – at least among in-partisans – obtain consent to their proposal.  

This is an onsite event with livestream. For the Zoom link, please register here.