Income poverty and political participation: Theory and evidence from the sequencing of bank working days

04.12.2019 - 13:45 to 15:15
Location : 
A 5,6 Raum A 231
Type of Event : 
Dr. Max Schaub
Lecturer affiliation: 

Does poverty reduce political participation? The negative link between low socio-economic status and all forms of political participation is a classic finding dating back to the early days of empirical political science. However, producing causal evidence demonstrating that poverty per se – rather than the low education levels or general lack of resources that usually accompany poverty – causes the observed drop in participation has proven exceedingly difficult. This paper revisits the debate, drawing on new research that highlights the deleterious psychological effects of poverty and using a novel instrument that allows for causal inference. I exploit the fact that the effective length of months varies in an unpredictable fashion depending on the distribution of bank working days throughout the year. This means that individuals in certain months will have to make do with the same salary for up to three days longer. Among the relatively poor, these additional days cause a marked increase in financial difficulties, especially towards the end of the month. I analyze the causal effect of this type of short-term poverty. Using data from over 3 mio individuals and 1,000 elections in Germany, I document reductions in both turnout intentions and turnout. Effect sizes are substantial, ranging between 2 and 6 percentage points. Qualitative evidence from personal interviews confirm the debilitating effect of short-term poverty on participation: income deprivation is most extreme at the end of the month, and leaves individuals stressed, unmotivated, and socially isolated, taking away their perceived capability to politically engage. The findings have important implications for the scheduling of election days and the political representation of the poor.