Educated Politicians: Their Effects on Fiscal Policy and Unemployment
Highly educated citizens are dramatically over-represented among politicians. Is this bias desirable, troubling or irrelevant? Recent studies argue that highly educated politicians perform better in office, but others find no effects. We advance a third possibility which is that education is an understudied source of descriptive representation. Our empirical analysis is based on a novel dataset with information about the education, age and gender of elected local politicians in Spain and detailed economic and fiscal data collected between 2003 and 2011. Applying a Regression Discontinuity design, we find that when parties with more educated politicians won the election, municipalities implemented more fiscally conservative policies and had higher increases in unemployment. Further analyses reveal that this is because more educated politicians invest less and don't prioritize areas traditionally associated with the left. Furthermore, the effect is driven by left-wing parties. Highly educated left-wing politicians govern in ways similar to right-wing politicians. Overall, our results are consistent with the interpretation that less educated citizens are better represented by less educated politicians rather than with the claim that education is a proxy of quality. To conclude we discuss how the elitism in the educational composition of governments can undermine political representation.
Marta Curto-Grau is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institutions and Political Economy Research Group at the University of Barcelona since January 2017. Previously, she was a postdoctoral researcher at Heidelberg University. Her research interests are in the fields of political economy and public economics, with a focus on distributive politics. She is very much interested in the political factors that influence the geographic distribution of public spending (e.g. party favoritism, clientelism, electoral cycles...). Her most recent research focuses on a key institutional factor that shapes the functioning of political parties: party discipline.
Aina Gallego is Ramon y Cajal Fellow (Assistant Professor) at IBEI and a Research Associate at the IPEG. Previously, she was a post-doctoral researcher at the Spanish High Research Council and at Stanford University, and have been the recipient of a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant. She has an ongoing interest in the political representation of the poor. Her book "Unequal Participation Worldwide" analyzed inequalities in voter turnout in a comparative perspective and argued that such gaps can be reduced through institutional reforms. In a current project with Marta Curto, they examine if the interests of the poor are better represented by politicians of a similar socio-economic background. She has also conducted extensive research on other topics such as the political consequences of corruption, the effects of personality on political behavior, or the origins of dual ethnic identities in contexts with ethnopolitical conflict such as Catalonia.
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