DP9726 Guns and Votes

Author(s): Laurent Bouton, Paola Conconi, Francisco Pino, Maurizio Zanardi
Publication Date: November 2013
Keyword(s): Elections, Gun-control regulations, Pandering, Vocal minority
JEL(s): D72, I18
Programme Areas: Public Policy
Link to this Page: http://www.cepr.org/pubs/dps/DP9726

Why are U.S. congressmen reluctant to support gun control regulations, despite the fact that most Americans are in favor of them? We argue that re-election motives can help explain why politicians often take a pro-gun stance against the interests of the majority of the electorate. We describe a model in which an incumbent politician must decide on a primary issue, which is more important to a majority of voters, and a secondary issue, which a minority cares more intensely about. We derive conditions under which the politician, when approaching re-election, will pander towards the interests of the minority on the secondary issue. To assess the evidence, we exploit the staggered structure of the U.S. Senate— in which one third of members face re-election every two years—and examine senators’ voting behavior on gun control. In line with the model’s predictions, we obtain three main results: senators are more likely to vote pro gun when they are closer to facing re-election; this behavior is driven by Democratic senators, who “flip flop” on gun control; election proximity has no impact on the voting behavior of senators who are retiring or hold safe seats.