Discussion paper

DP8251 Policymakers? Horizon and Trade Reforms

We investigate how term length and election proximity affect policymakers? willingness to support trade reforms. We exploit the institutional features of the U.S. Congress--in which House and Senate representatives serve two-year and six-year terms respectively, and one third of the Senate is up for election every two years--allowing us to compare legislators with mandates of different length, as well as three "generations" of senators, with different remaining time in office. We examine the determinants of congressmen?s voting behavior on all major trade reforms undertaken by the U.S. since the early 1970?s. We find that House members are less likely to support trade liberalization bills than Senate members. However, this result does not hold for senators in the last two years of their mandate, suggesting that inter-cameral differences are driven by differences in term length. Focusing on Senate votes only confirms that the last generation is significantly more protectionist than the previous two, a result that holds both when comparing the behavior of different senators on the same bill, and that of individual senators on different bills. Inter-generational differences disappear for senators who have "safe seats" or have announced their retirement, indicating that the protectionist effect of election proximity is driven by legislators? fear to lose office.


Zanardi, M, G Facchini and P Conconi (2011), ‘DP8251 Policymakers? Horizon and Trade Reforms‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 8251. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp8251