DP15280 Ballot or Bullet: The Impact of UK's Representation of the People Act on Peace and Prosperity

Author(s): Dominic Rohner, Alessandro Saia
Publication Date: September 2020
Keyword(s): conflict, democracy, Development, Elections, Enfranchisement, Franchise Extension, growth, riots, Social Violence, voting
JEL(s): C33, D72, D74, N43, O17
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Development Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15280

Does democracy hold its promise to curb domestic political violence? While the matter has been heatedly debated for decades, not much reliable causal evidence exists so far. To study this question we focus on UK's Victorian Age of Reform, and in particular the Representation of the People Act of 1867 -- which is widely regarded as a critical juncture in the history of democratization. We have constructed a novel dataset on conflict events and economic performance around the 1868 Elections (the first elections where newly enfranchised citizens could vote) and exploit arguably exogenous variation in enfranchisement intensity across UK cities. We find a strong and robust peace-promoting effect of franchise extension and identify as major channel the beneficial impact of representation on local economic growth.