Why do voters have divergent beliefs about the role of government in solving social problems? We study this question in the context of skill-biased technological change and investment in higher education. We document that the negative labor market consequences of technological change are significantly mitigated in US counties with greater levels of higher education investment. We show that exposure to these condi- tions is, in turn, correlated with greater public support for higher education spending. We further present evidence that technological change induced a vote towards more centrist ideological positions and a pro-government shift in partisan voting in counties with higher initial levels of educational investment. We conclude that higher education investments are productive, but there is also evidence of history-dependent diverging support for such investments. We present a model of incomplete learning as a possible interpretation for our findings. In a context where higher education spending dampens the negative employment effects of technological change, a history of believing that education is productive advantages local communities in learning the true productivity of higher education investments, while the absence of such a history favors incomplete learning.
Global Performance Assessments (GPAs), which rank countries on a range of policy areas, can encourage domestic demands for policy reform. Yet can they also affect at what level of government—local or national— citizens want reform to take place? We theorize that, by emphasizing how countries fare relative to others, GPAs prompt citizens to view domestic policy underperformance as a “national problem requiring national solutions.” This increases calls for vesting pol- icymaking authority in the hands of central govern- ments. We argue that this effect should be most salient when underperformance is presented as a threat to a country's security because it induces citizens to “rally ‘round the flag.” To test our theory, we field an original survey experiment in the United States using fictitious news articles manipulating both the source of perfor- mance monitoring information and how it is presented. In line with our prediction, respondents are most likely to demand policy centralization when underperformance is framed using GPAs and citizens are primed to think of low scores as a threat to their country's security. These results indicate that GPAs could eventually increase calls for expanding the purview of national-level politicians over policymaking.
Decentralized delivery of public services should enhance constituents’ ability to hold politicians accountable and improve public service outcomes, according to theory. Yet, decentralization has not consistently yielded those improvements. This paper uses a novel cross-country panel from the OECD to show that decentralization generally improves students’ access to education, but in so doing, it creates congestion effects which diminish the overall quality of education that students receive. We argue that this is partially explained by the incentives of sub-central governments upon receiving their new authority. Sub-central governments are more incentivized than national ones to pursue policy improvements that are more visible and quicker to achieve, even when they are costly – like improving access – over improvements that are less visible and take longer to achieve – like increasing quality. Decentralization should therefore result in positive effects on education access and negative on quality, consistent with our findings. We directly test the impact of political incentives on responses to decentralization by exploiting the timing of education decentralization in Spain (1980–99), and variation in the political assertiveness of regional governments, using generalized difference-in-differences and synthetic controls. As predicted, the magnitude of decentralization's effects is greater for assertive regions, which are most incentivized to prioritize high visibility, costly policies.
Are politicians with elite backgrounds more electable? In this article, we test whether being an elite is a net positive or negative in running for public o ce via an original survey experiment that manipulates one of the most salient indicators of eliteness in American life: university education. We nd that liberals, but not con- servatives, perceive politicians who attended elite schools to be more competent. Meanwhile, conservatives, but not liberals, perceive politicians who attended elite schools to be less relatable. On average, citizens are mildly, but not signi cantly, less inclined to vote for elite-educated politicians. By embedding treatments in our survey for whether politicians came from advantaged or disadvantaged upbringings, we also con rm that our results do not entirely re ect generic attitudes toward economically privileged candidates.