Discussion paper

DP12097 The Political Cost of Being Soft on Crime: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

We provide evidence about voters' response to crime control policies. We exploit a natural
experiment arising from the Italian 2006 collective pardon releasing about one third of the prison
population. The pardon created idiosyncratic incentives to recidivate across released individuals
and municipalities. We show that municipalities where resident pardoned individuals have a higher
incentive to recidivate experienced higher recidivism. Moreover, in these municipalities: i) newspapers
were more likely to report crime news involving pardoned individuals; ii) voters held worse
beliefs on the incumbent governments ability to control crime and iii) with respect to the previous
elections, the incumbent national government experienced a worse electoral performance in the
April 2008 national elections relative to the opposition coalition. Overall, our findings indicate that
voters keep incumbent politicians accountable by conditioning their vote on the observed effects of
their policies.


Drago, F, R Galbiati and F Sobbrio (2017), ‘DP12097 The Political Cost of Being Soft on Crime: Evidence from a Natural Experiment‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 12097. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp12097