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Theses Doctoral

Political Preferences in Adverse Conditions

Visconti, Giancarlo

Why do voters change their political behavior after negative events such as natural disasters and crime victimization? The extant literature tends to focus on how citizens punish or reward the incumbent based on a model of (mis)attribution of responsibilities. This approach overlooks the fact that affected voters might change their political preferences after the negative shock. Departing from the existing literature, I argue that affected citizens, in addition to evaluating incumbent performance, are also selecting the political leader they believe can most enhance their well-being after the negative event. In particular, I hold that affected voters focus on improving their living conditions, which leads them to pay attention to the policy issues that can help them achieve that goal. As a consequence, victims are more likely to prefer candidates better able to address these new policy preferences. Under adverse conditions, these individuals will vote for political candidates whom they would not select under other circumstances. In each of the three chapters of this dissertation, I
provide evidence to support different aspects of this main argument. In the first chapter, I study the political consequences of natural disasters. According to my theory, citizens affected by catastrophes seek to reduce the gap between their living conditions before and after the disaster. This leads them to focus on welfare and social policies – for example, the construction of new housing. Consequently, they are more inclined to vote for parties or persons associated with those measures, typically left-wing candidates. To test this argument, I use a natural experiment created by flash floods that occurred in Chile in 2015, which produced random variation in exposure to the natural disaster. I then measure voters’ political preferences using a conjoint survey experiment, and find that disaster victims are more likely to prefer left-wing candidates. In addition, grounded in two months of fieldwork in the affected area, I provide qualitative evidence that illustrates how disaster victims emphasize the importance of welfare policies that can improve their standard of living. In the second chapter, I show how disaster victims after the 2010 earthquake in Chile select housing and not infrastructure as a top priority after the catastrophe. These results help us better understand why disaster victims are more likely to vote for left-wing politicians: affected citizens are particularly concerned about the reconstruction of their houses, and in consequence, should be more likely to vote for candidates who can be linked with those specific welfare policies. To study how the earthquake modified victims’ political priorities, I rely on survey data before and after this negative event comparing exposed and unexposed counties. In the third chapter, I study how crime victims change their policy preferences. I show that affected citizens are more likely to support strong-handed measures to reduce crime, such as allowing state repression. These results reveal that exposure to crime can change what people think the state should be allowed to do, which can have important political implications. To study the impact of crime on victims’ preferences, I use panel data from Brazil and I implement strategies for reducing sensitivity to hidden biases, such as focusing on individuals who were not crime victims during a previous wave.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Murillo, Maria V.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 16, 2018