Monday, January 28, 2008

Altruism and Partisanship

For those who are interested, I've been working up a nice little paper on altruism and support for greater public spending (it is the last of my dissertation papers). The data are drawn from a poll of a few thousand people I was involved with last spring. And the measure of altruism is rather unconventional for a survey. Rather than ask individuals about whether they engage in altruistic acts or have an altruistic orientation, we observe their altruism. Specifically, we gave subjects some sum of expected money and then measured how they share it with an anonymous individual (in behavioural economics parlance this is the dictator game). A couple of results are of note, even though the paper is not ready. First, those who are altruistic are more likely to support greater public spending on public and semi-public goods, even when they are made aware that it comes at a cost to themselves in terms of higher taxes. This goes someway in confirming earlier findings which rely on stated rather than revealed altruism. And it goes some way in confronting the argument that people support public spending because they are self-interested and they want to benefit from programs at the cost of others. Second, and this is the more general finding I wanted to flag, I can find no relationship between partisanship and altruism. Tories, Liberals, and Dippers are, on average, equal in their altruism. What is interesting, though, is that their partisanship still matters for public spending, with Libs and Dips supporting greater public spending and Conservative identifiers supporting less. It's a bit of a puzzle I hope to resolve in the next couple of weeks. As always, thoughts are welcome.

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