Gerber, A., Huber, G., Tucker, P., & Cho, J. (2023). The Importance of Breaking Even: How Local and Aggregate Returns Make Politically Feasible Policies. British Journal of Political Science, 1-18. doi:10.1017/S0007123423000522
Policies that promote the common good may be politically infeasible if legislators representing ‘losing’ constituencies are punished for failing to promote their district's welfare. We investigate how varying the local and aggregate returns to a policy affects voter support for their incumbent. In our first study, we find that an incumbent who favors a welfare-enhancing policy enjoys a discontinuous jump in support when their district moves from losing to at least breaking even, while the additional incremental political returns for the district doing better than breaking even are modest. This feature of voter response, which we replicate, has significant implications for legislative politics generally and, in particular, how to construct politically feasible social welfare-enhancing policies. In a second study, we investigate the robustness of this finding in a competitive environment in which a challenger can call attention to a legislator's absolute and relative performance in delivering resources to their district.
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