Monday, 15 February 2016

Even candy can't make young kids republican

There is a famous saying that: "A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head", attributed to Benjamin Disraeli (but, interestingly, also to many others). I don't think this statement has been rigorously empirically tested, but a recent paper in the journal Economic Inquiry (ungated earlier version here) by Julian Jamison (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and Dean Karlan (Yale University) looks at the youngest end of the age distribution - children (aged 4 to 15).

The paper involves probably the cutest field experiments possible - conducted on children at Halloween. The authors explain:
We set up two tables on the porch of a home for Halloween, one festooned with McCain campaign props in 2008 (Romney in 2012) and the other with Obama props. Children, at the stairs leading up to the porch, were told they could choose which side to go. Half of the children were randomly assigned to be offered twice as much candy for the McCain table (Romney in 2012), and half were offered an equal amount...
The experimental setup allows us to measure not just what proportion of children who trick-or-treat in this neighborhood support each candidate (as indicated by their choice of table), but also how elastic their support is, or, more precisely, how elastic their desire is to make a public statement of their support.
What did they find? In the 2008 experiment:
In the “equal candy” treatment, 79% of children chose the Obama table, reflecting the high level of support for the Democratic Party in New Haven, Connecticut. When offered twice the amount of candy to go to the McCain table, 71% of the children still chose the Obama table, though the difference is not statistically significant (Table 1)...
Children ages eight and under did not respond to the additional candy incentives — approximately 30% of children chose the McCain table in both treatment groups. Children ages nine and older however, were much more responsive to the candy incentive. The percentage of older children that visited the McCain table increased from 10% without the incentives to 30% with the incentives.
So, younger children were more firm in their preferences for Obama (they had less elastic preferences than older children). And in the 2012 experiment:
Our results are largely consistent with the results from 2008, suggesting that support for Obama in this context has not declined since 2008. Eighty-two percent of children chose Obama in the “equal candy” treatment, whereas 78% of children chose Obama when twice as much candy was offered at the Romney table.
As in 2008, for children ages nine and older, the double candy incentive appeared to encourage some Obama supporters to choose Romney. While 17% of older children chose Romney when offered equal candy, 31% of older children chose Romney when offered double candy. For children ages eight or under, the double candy incentive had the opposite effect: 18% chose Romney when offered equal candy, whereas 14% chose Romney when offered more candy.
So even bonus candy isn't enough to get young children to abandon their political allegiances. Older children are more easily swayed by a little extra sugar. If we extrapolate to adults then, does that explain pork barrel politics?

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