WHAT MOTIVATES POLITICAL PREFERENCES? SELF-INTEREST, IDEOLOGY, AND FAIRNESS IN A LABORATORY DEMOCRACY

Authors

  • JUSTIN ESAREY,

    1. Esarey: Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322. Phone 404-727-6583, Fax 404-727-4586, E-mail jesarey@emory.edu
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  • TIMOTHY C. SALMON,

    1. Salmon: Professor, Department of Economics, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2180. Phone 850-644-7207, Fax 850-644-4535, E-mail tsalmon@fsu.edu
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  • CHARLES BARRILLEAUX

    1. Barrilleaux: Leroy Collins Professor, Department of Political Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306. Phone (850) 644-7643, Fax (850) 644-0581, E-mail cbarrile@fsu.edu
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    • We thank the National Science Foundation for its generous support of our research (#0720055). Many valuable comments and suggestions were offered by T. K. Ahn, Tom Carsey, Eric Dickson, Rachel Croson, Mark Rom, Jackie Rubin, David Macpherson, and participants in our conference presentations at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Economic Association, the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, ASSA Meetings as well as participants at our seminars at the University of Vermont, Max Planck Institute in Jena and Oberlin College. All errors remain our own.


Abstract

Substantial prior literature has established that subjects in laboratory experiments are typically willing to sacrifice their own well being to make financial allocations more equal among participants. We test the applicability of this result in an environment that contains some of the key contextual issues that are usually excluded from more abstract games, but which might be important in situations involving income redistribution. Our general finding is that votes for a redistributive tax are almost entirely in accordance with self-interest: above-average earners vote for low tax rates and below-average earners vote for high tax rates. A measure of subjects' preferences for fairness or equality, their self-reported economic ideology, is not directly related to their voting behavior in this experiment. Because the ideology measure should be correlated with any intrinsic preferences regarding inequality aversion, we conclude that any preferences for fairness or inequality that our subjects possess are not strong enough to overcome self-interest in this context. We do, however, find evidence for a possible indirect effect of ideology on choice behavior in that more conservative subjects tend to be more responsive to their self-interest than the more liberal subjects. (JEL C90, D63)

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