The Political Cost of Being Soft on Crime: Evidence from a Natural Experiment


The Political Cost of Being Soft on Crime: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

We provide evidence about voters' response to crime policies. Our research design exploits a natural experiment arising from the Italian 2006 collective pardon bill suddenly releasing more than one third of the prison population. The design of the bill created idiosyncratic incentives to recidivate across pardoned individuals and municipalities. We show that municipalities where the incentive to recidivate of resident pardoned individuals was higher, experienced higher recidivism. At the same time, in these municipalities: i) newspapers were more likely to report crime news involving pardoned individuals; ii) voters held worse beliefs on the incumbent government's ability to control crime. Moreover, with respect to the previous elections, the incumbent national government experienced a significantly worse electoral performance in the April 2008 elections relative to the opposition coalition. In terms of political cost, our estimates suggest that a one standard deviation increase in the incentive to recidivate (i.e., the random component in the effects of the policy) reduced the margin of victory of the incumbent national government by 3.3%. Overall, our findings indicates that voters keep the incumbent government accountable by conditioning their vote on the observed effects of its policies.

IAST Seminar on Law and Economics

Roberto Galbiati is a CNRS Senior Researcher from the Department of Economics, Sciences Po.

His personal website

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