Working papers

Loose Cannons – War Veterans and the Erosion of Democracy in Weimar Germany
[TWERPS Working Paper 1079]

Cited in “The 4D Future of Economic History” by Kris J. Mitchener (Journal of Economic History, 2015)

Abstract: I study the effect of war participation on the rise of right-wing parties in Inter-war Germany. After the democratisation and surrender of Germany in 1918, 8m German soldiers of WWI were demobilised. I argue that defeat made veterans particularly sceptical about the new democratic state. Their return undermined support for democratic parties from the very beginning and facilitated the reversion to autocratic rule 15 years later. In order to quantify this effect, I construct the first disaggregated estimates of German WWI veterans since official army records were destroyed. I combine this data with a new panel of voting results from 1881 to 1933. Diff-in-Diff estimates show that war participation had a strong positive effect on support for the right-wing at the expense of socialist parties. A one standard deviation increase in veteran inflow shifted vote shares to the right by more than 2 percentage points. An IV strategy based on draft exemption rules substantiates my findings. The effect of veterans on voting is highly persistent and strongest in working class areas. Gains for the right-wing, however, are only observed after a period of Communist insurgencies. I provide suggestive evidence that veterans must have picked up especially anti-Communist sentiments after defeat, injected these into the working class and in this way eroded the future of the young democracy.


Dynamics in Gun Ownership and Crime – Evidence from the Aftermath of Sandy Hook (with David Schindler)
[Working Paper]

Winner of the Econometric Society’s European Meeting Best Paper Award 2017

Abstract: Gun rights activists in the United States frequently argue that the right to bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, can help deter crime. Advocates of gun control usually respond that firearm prevalence contributes positively to violent crime rates. In this paper, we provide quasi-experimental evidence that a positive and unexpected gun demand shock led to an increase in murder rates. We show that the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, and the resulting gun control debate, created additional interest in gun ownership. In states where purchases were delayed due to mandatory waiting periods and bureaucratic hurdles in issuing a gun permit, firearm sales exhibited weaker increases than in states without any such delays. States that, as a result, saw more gun sales also experienced significantly higher murder rates in the months following the demand shock, as murders increased by almost 15% over the course of a year. Our findings survive several robustness checks, and are not driven by differential pre-trends. We also show that women were relatively more likely to become murder victims than men as a result of the shock. Our estimates predict that implementing delays for firearm purchases in all states could have prevented approximately 98 murders in each month of 2013 alone.


Competence vs. Loyalty: Political Survival and Electoral Fraud in Russia’s Regions 2000-2012
[TWERPS Working Paper 1080]

Abstract: Election fraud is a pervasive feature of autocracies but often only serves lower-tier officials to cast signals of loyalty or competence to the central government in order to pursue their own interests. How much such personal interests matter for electoral fraud under autocracy has however not been studied so far. In this paper, I exploit a radical policy change in Russia which allowed the president to replace governors of the country’s 89 regions at his own will. As a result, federal elections after December 2004 were organised by two types of governors: one was handpicked by the president, the other one elected before the law change and re-appointed. Even though both types faced removal in case of bad results, the need to signal loyalty was much lower for the first type. In order to estimate the effect of handpicked governors on electoral fraud, I use a diff-in-diff framework over 7 federal elections between 2000 and 2012. For this time period, I use results from about 95,000 voting stations to construct a new indicator of suspicious votes for each region and election. I show that this indicator correlates strongly with incidents of reported fraud. My baseline estimates show that in territories with a handpicked governor the share of suspicious votes decreased on average by more than 10 percentage points and dropped even further if the region’s economy had done well over the past legislature. These findings suggest that governors have less need to use rigging as a signal once loyalty is assured unless faced with circumstances raising doubts about their competence.


The Political Fallout of Chernobyl: Evidence from West-German Elections
[TWERPS Working Paper 1081]

Abstract: I study the effect of a formative experience on political beliefs in a distant country. This paper looks at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986 and voters’ response in West Germany. The analysis uses a diff-in-diff estimation which exploits variation in proximity to the nearest nuclear power plant (NPP) across 301 counties. Proximity is used as proxy for the shock from perceived risk of a nuclear accident. Using data over almost 40 years and 11 elections, my results indicate that living closer to an NPP benefited the explicitly anti- and pro-nuclear parties, the Greens and the Conservatives. The findings are persistent and robust to the inclusion of several socio-economic controls as well as checks for the validity of the identifying assumptions. The gains of the Greens are similar across social groups and in line with home-voter effects. The effect of proximity on the conservatives increases with education and the number of adolescents in their impressionable years. I argue that this can be explained by political belief formation and differences in assessing the economic benefits from nuclear power over the actual risk of an accident. Using variation in the scheduling of subsequent state elections, I can also show that the pro-nuclear response was stronger in counties which did not vote in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl and thus had more time for a rational electoral choice.