Scholars of presidential primaries have long posited a dynamic positive feedback loop between fundraising and electoral success. Yet existing work on both directions of this feedback remains inconclusive and is often explicitly cross-sectional, ignoring the dynamic aspect of the hypothesis. Pairing high-frequency FEC data on contributions and expenditures with Iowa Electronic Markets data on perceived probability of victory, we examine the bidirectional feedback between contributions and viability. We find robust, significant positive feedback in both directions. This might suggest multiple equilibria: a candidate initially anointed as the front-runner able to sustain such status solely by the fundraising advantage conferred despite possessing no advantage in quality. However, simulations suggest the feedback loop cannot, by itself, sustain advantage. Given the observed durability of front-runners, it would thus seem there is either some other feedback at work and/or the process by which the initial front-runner is identified is informative of candidate quality.
We explore the effects of localized economic shocks from trade on roll-call behavior and electoral outcomes in the U.S. House, 1990--2010. We demonstrate that economic shocks from Chinese import competition---first studied by Autor, Dorn, and Hanson (2013)---cause legislators to vote in the more protectionist direction on trade bills but cause no change in their voting on all other bills. At the same time, these shocks have no effect on the reelection rates of incumbents, the probability an incumbent faces a primary challenge, or the partisan control of the district. Though changes in economic conditions are likely to cause electoral turnover in many cases, incumbents exposed to negative economic shocks from trade appear able to fend off these effects in equilibrium by taking strategic positions on foreign-trade bills. In line with this view, we find that the effect on roll-call voting is strongest in districts where incumbents are most threatened, electorally. Taken together, these results paint a picture of responsive incumbents who tailor their roll-call positions on trade bills to the economic conditions in their districts.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, many American cities built water systems using lead or iron service pipes. Municipal water systems generated significant public health improvements, but these improvements may have been partially offset by the damaging effects of lead exposure through lead water pipes. We study the effect of cities' use of lead pipes on homicide between 1921 and 1936. Lead water pipes exposed entire city populations to much higher doses of lead than have previously been studied in relation to crime. Our estimates suggest that cities' use of lead service pipes considerably increased city-level homicide rates.
The boll weevil infestation of 1892-1922 had a clear and lasting impact on the US South's economy. In this paper, we show that it also affected the region’s demography. When the boll weevil hit the cotton South, it encountered a region populated by families of tenant farmers. Tenant farming created both economic opportunities and economic incentives for prospective tenants to marry at young ages. The boll weevil infestation undermined this family-based organization of agricultural labor. Using data from historical US Department of Agriculture maps, complete-count Census of Population data from 1900-1930, and Census of Agriculture data from 1889-1929, we show that the boll weevil’s arrival reduced both the share of farms worked by tenants and the share of African Americans who married at young ages. We also document that increases in tenancy over time increased the prevalence of marriage among young people, particularly young African Americans. Our results provide new evidence about the effect of economic institutions on demographic transformations.
Dominant theories of legislative organization in the U.S. rest on the notion that the majority party arranges legislative matters to maximize its electoral fortunes. Yet, as we demonstrate in this paper, there is little or no short-term electoral advantage for the majority party in U.S. state legislatures, and there is a pronounced downstream majority-party disadvantage. To establish these findings, we propose a technique for aggregating the results of close elections to obtain "as-if" random variation in majority-party status, allowing us to overcome the central empirical obstacle of selection bias that typically prevents scholars from studying effects of majority-party control. We argue that the results from this approach are consistent with a phenomenon of inter-temporal balancing, which we link to other forms of partisan balancing in U.S. elections. The paper thus necessitates revisions to our theories of legislative organization, offers new arguments for balancing theories, and provides an empirical technique for studying the effects of majority-party status in legislative contexts.
Was economic mobility high during the first half of the twentieth century in the United States? I combine two historical data sources to estimate intergenerational income mobility between 1915 and 1940. I match fathers from the Iowa State Census of 1915 to their sons in the 1940 Federal Census, the first state and federal censuses with data on income and years of education. In my sample of fathers and sons, I estimate a lower intergenerational elasticity of income than is found in modern studies of the United States, suggesting higher levels of income mobility. Income mobility measured with relative income ranks also show higher mobility historically. Intergenerational mobility of education is higher in my sample than in modern measures as well. I find sons in rural counties in 1915 to have more mobility of both income and education than urban sons. Lacking data on income, past studies of historical intergenerational mobility have relied on occupation transition data for fathers and sons to measure mobility. When I compute standard measures of occupational mobility for my sample, I find levels of mobility between 1915 and 1940 to be larger than modern estimates, confirming the higher mobility I find in income measures. This suggests that the standard estimates of historical occupational mobility may be accurate substitutes for measures of income mobility when income data does not exist.
Do severe economic downturns increase intergenerational economic mobility by breaking links between generations, or do they instead reduce mobility by limiting opportunity for the young? To answer this question, I estimate rates of intergenerational mobility during the Great Depression for individuals in American cities that experienced downturns of varying severity. I create two new historical samples, digitizing and transcribing archival data on individual earnings and linking fathers to sons before and after the Depression. To build these longitudinal samples, I develop a new machine learning approach to census matching, which enables me to link individuals accurately and efficiently between censuses in the absence of unique identification numbers. I find that the Great Depression lowered intergenerational mobility for sons growing up in cities hit by large downturns. These results are not driven by place-specific mobility differences: for the generation before the Depression, mobility between 1900 and 1920 is unrelated to future downturn intensity. Differential directed migration is a key mechanism to explain my results. Although sons fled distressed cities at similar rates, the sons of richer fathers migrated to locations that had suffered less severe Depression effects. The differences in rates of intergenerational mobility for sons in the most and least Depression-affected cities are comparable to the differences between the United States and Sweden today.
Municipal governments oversee many of the most important political matters of daily life in the U.S., yet our understanding of municipal politics remains limited. We combine a large dataset of requests for local government services—such as snow plowing, traffic signal repairs, pothole repairs, and graffiti cleanup—in Boston, Massachusetts, 2011–2015, with fine-grained census data on localized incomes and income inequality. Employing a within-neighborhood design, we establish that, other things equal, higher-income census tracts make more requests for government services. Using data from open-ended text responses submitted by the city, we then connect these requests to the provision of services, showing how the underlying capacity of local communities for communicating requests—i.e., for participating in the process of local government—helps drive inequality in the receipt of services themselves. These results highlight how inequality in economic resources connects to inequality in the non-electoral components of participation in local government.
Thanks to the availability of new historical census sources and advances in record linking technology, economic historians are becoming big data genealogists. Linking individuals over time and between databases has opened up new avenues for research into intergenerational mobility, assimilation, discrimination, and the returns to education. To take advantage of these new research opportunities, scholars need to be able to accurately and efficiently match historical records and produce an unbiased dataset of links for downstream analysis. I detail a standard and transparent census matching technique for constructing linked samples that can be replicated across a variety of cases. The procedure applies insights from machine learning classification and text comparison to the well known problem of record linkage, but with a focus on the sorts of costs and benefits of working with historical data. I begin by extracting a subset of possible matches for each record, and then use training data to tune a matching algorithm that attempts to minimize both false positives and false negatives, taking into account the inherent noise in historical records. To make the procedure precise, I trace its application to an example from my own work, linking children from the 1915 Iowa State Census to their adult-selves in the 1940 Federal Census. In addition, I provide guidance on a number of practical questions, including how large the training data needs to be relative to the sample.
What was the economic impact of General William Sherman’s 1864-65 military march through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina? How does local economic activity respond in both the short- and long-run to capital and infrastructure destruction? We match an 1865 US War Department map of Sherman’s march to detailed county level demographic, agricultural, and manufacturing data from US Censuses, 1850-1930. We show that both agricultural and manufacturing output fell relatively more from 1860 to 1870 and 1880 in Sherman counties compared to non-Sherman counties in the same state. These relative declines do not appear to be driven by differential out-migration, demographic patterns, or long-lasting infrastructure destruction. Instead, by collecting new historical data on local banks, we show that damage to credit markets was more severe in march counties and that these financial disruptions can help explain the larger declines in economic output.
In American elections, labor union members are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates, and Democrats tend to represent states and districts with more union members. But does the strength of organized labor have a causal effect on election results? I use union certification regression discontinuities to measure union effects and find that private-sector unions do have a positive effect on Democratic vote share in presidential races: an additional union increases Democratic vote share at the county level by 1.5 percentage points. This suggests that each new union member ``converts'' 14 new Democratic voters with the conversion rate decreasing in union size. The effects on Congressional elections are not significant. I find that an additional union increases contributions from labor PACs to Democratic congressional candidates, with no effect on Republican candidates. While there is no union effect on overall partisan position of congressional representatives, I do find that unions push Democrats to the left on labor, trade, and general economic issues.
When acquiring information about potential buyers is costly, sellers will be unable to make the best possible match. We capture the consequences of this in a model where producers make investment decisions anticipating their future response to search costs. When one good has higher information frictions than another, decreasing those frictions increases production of that good along the extensive and intensive margins, and with specialization constraints production of the other good will decrease. Using a novel dataset on the roll-out of free postal delivery in rural communities in the US at the turn of the 20th century, we find evidence in line with the predictions of the model, as investment in manufacturing significantly increased in counties which got more free delivery routes, and agricultural investment weakly decreased. We use newspaper subscriptions as a proxy first stage, finding that access to new post office services did increase newspaper circulation. We also extend our basic model to show how cheaper communication can lead to the dispersion of production and consumption, an effect which is magnified by access to cheaper transportation, and find support for this prediction as well.