Importing Political Polarization? The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure
May 10, 2016Washington, DC

David Autor
David Autor is Professor and Associate Head of the MIT Department of Economics, and Faculty Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research analyzes the labor market impacts of technological change and globalization, earnings inequality, and disability insurance and labor supply. Autor is an elected Fellow of the Econometrics Society, the Society of Labor Economists, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received an NSF Career award, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, the Sherwin Rosen Prize for outstanding contributions in the field of Labor Economics, and MIT’s James A. and Ruth Levitan Award for excellence in teaching. Autor earned a B.A. in Psychology from Tufts University and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1999. Prior to graduate study, he spent three years directing computer skills education for economically disadvantaged children and adults in San Francisco and South Africa.

Has rising trade integration between the U.S. and China contributed to the polarization of U.S. politics? Analyzing outcomes from the 2002 and 2010 congressional elections, we detect an ideological realignment that is centered in trade-exposed local labor markets and that commences prior to the divisive 2016 U.S. presidential election. Exploiting the exogenous component of rising trade with China and classifying legislator ideologies by their congressional voting record, we find strong evidence that congressional districts exposed to larger increases in import competition disproportionately removed moderate representatives from office in the 2000s. Trade-exposed districts initially in Republican hands become substantially more likely to elect a conservative Republican, while trade-exposed districts initially in Democratic hands become more likely to elect either a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Polarization is also evident when breaking down districts by race: trade-exposed locations with a majority white population are disproportionately likely to replace moderate legislators with conservative Republicans, whereas locations with a majority non-white population tend to replace moderates with liberal Democrats. In contrast with much previous work in political science, we find limited impacts of economic shocks on the probability of party turnover (an anti-incumbency effect) or on the electoral vote shares of the major parties (a party realignment effect). Focusing on legislator behavior rather than on party vote counts, we find that trade exposure abets the replacement of incumbents from both parties with more ideologically strident successors.

The Development Economics Vice Presidency (DEC) launched its lecture series in April 2005 to bring distinguished academics to the Bank to present and discuss new knowledge on development. The purpose of the Lecture Series is to introduce ideas on cutting edge research, challenge and contribute to the Bank's intellectual climate, and reexamine current development theories and practices. The Lectures revisit issues of long-standing concern and explore emerging issues that promise to be central to future development discourse. The Lecture Series reflects DEC’s commitment to intellectual leadership and openness in embracing future challenges to reduce poverty.

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Lecture Details
  • Date: Tuesday, May 10, 2016
  • Time: 2:30 – 1:30 PM
  • Venue: Preston Auditorium