Discussion paper

DP8561 Policymakers' Horizon and Trade Reforms: The Protectionist Effect of Elections

This paper shows that electoral incentives deter politicians from supporting trade liberalization. We focus on all major trade bills introduced since the early 1970s in the U.S. Congress, in which House and Senate members serve respectively two- and six-year terms and one third of senators face elections every two years. We show that senators are more likely to support trade liberalization than House representatives. However, this result does not hold for the last generation of senators, who face elections at the same time as House members, suggesting that inter-cameral di fferences are driven by term length. Considering senators alone, we show that the last generation is more protectionist than the previous two. This result holds both when comparing di fferent individuals voting on the same bill and the same individual voting on di fferent bills. It is also pervasive: even representatives of export constituencies, in which a majority of voters should gain from trade liberalization, become more protectionist at the end of their terms. Inter-generational di fferences disappear only for senators who hold safe seats or are retiring. Our findings suggest that re-election motives lead legislators to pander toward the interests of protectionist voters.


Zanardi, M, G Facchini and P Conconi (2011), ‘DP8561 Policymakers' Horizon and Trade Reforms: The Protectionist Effect of Elections‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 8561. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp8561