• Chart of the Week
  • February 13, 2019

Stimulating the vote

Homes in Camden, N.J., await revitalization from an infusion of federal stimulus money.

Adam Jones

The country was in the depths of the worst slump since the Great Depression and calls for major economic interventions were growing louder in Washington . . .  well, at least among Democrats.

A month into his first term as president, Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The $800 billion stimulus package passed along starkly partisan lines, with all House Democrats voting in favor while receiving no support among Republicans.  

Whether it worked is debatable, but a paper in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy says it helped stimulate votes for Democrats.

Author Emiliano Huet-Vaughn says that, in New Jersey municipalities close to stimulus-funded road projects, there was a 1.5 percentage point increase in Democratic vote share in the 2012 presidential election.


Figure 4 from Huet-Vaughn (2019)


The figure above from his paper plots the Democratic presidential vote share for 166 municipalities that benefited from ARRA-funded projects (the blue “treated” line) and 399 municipalities that were far away. Prior to 2009, the Democratic vote share in both tracked fairly closely. But after the funding was rolled out (the vertical red dotted line), they diverge. Areas that were closer to ARRA projects had an increase in the Democratic vote share while the other places experienced a very slight decline.

The partisan nature of the act’s passage made it highly associated with Democrats. It was also highly publicized. ARRA funded projects were branded as such with road signs that let travelers passing by know that it was a “Project Funded By The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” The paper’s findings suggest that the ARRA signs, besides informing people about where the funds came from, may have functioned like campaign posters for Democratic candidates.