How Legislators Estimate the Redistributive Preferences of Voters

About this Session


Fri. 08.04. 09:00



Speaker: Luzia Helfer, Co-Author: Christian Breunig

When making decisions on redistribution, legislators assess its popularity. In their estimation, members of parliament (MPs) rely on their own redistributive preferences: the more supportive MPs are about redistribution, the higher their estimation of public support for redistributive policies. Politicians thereby display a false consensus effect in their assessment. A survey in four democracies—Belgium, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland—elicits MPs’ estimates of public preferences on redistribution as well as their own redistributive preferences. The estimated effects indicate that MPs who strongly oppose a redistributive policy do not believe that a majority of citizens favor it; however, when politicians are supportive of the measure themselves, they believe that over 60% of citizens prefer a redistributive policy. A placebo test and interviews substantiate these findings. These sizeable effects uncover a new mechanism for redistributive outcomes in advanced democracies: a biased assessment of voter preferences.