The Political Cost of Being Soft on Crime: Evidence from a Natural Experiment
Journal of the European Economic Association
GB : MIT Press
Accountability, Retrospective Voting, Natural Experiment, Crime, Recidivism, Media
This study analyses voters' response to criminal justice policies by exploiting a natural experiment. The 2006 Italian Collective Pardon Bill, designed and promoted by the incumbent center-left (CL) coalition, unexpectedly released about one-third of the prison population, creating idiosyncratic incentives to recidivate across pardoned individuals. Municipalities where resident pardoned individuals had a higher incentive to recidivate experienced a higher recidivism rate. We show that in those municipalities voters "punished'' the CL coalition in the 2008 parliamentary elections. A one standard deviation increase in the incentive to recidivate-corresponding to an increase of recidivism of 15.9 percent-led to a 3.06 percent increase in the margin of victory of the center-right (CR) coalition in the post-pardon national elections (2008) relative to the last election before the pardon (2006). We also provide evidence of newspapers being more likely to report crime news involving pardoned individuals and of voters hardening their views on the incumbent national government's ability to control crime. Our findings indicate that voters keep politicians accountable by conditioning their vote on the observed effects of public policies.