Policy Impact and Voter Mobilization: Evidence from Farmers’ Trade War Experiences


How does the extent of policy benefits—not simply their presence or absence—affect political engagement? While fundamental to understanding the electoral implications of economic policymaking, addressing this question is challenging due to the difficulty of measuring individual voters’ policy outcomes. We examine a natural experiment embedded in President Trump’s Market Facilitation Program, which aided a core Republican constituency: farmers harmed by his 2018 trade war. Due to idiosyncrasies of program design, the MFP undercompensated some farmers for their trade war losses—and significantly overcompensated others—based solely on their 2018 crop portfolios. Analyzing over 165,000 affected voters, we show that improved compensation outcomes had negligible impacts on Republican farmers’ midterm turnout and campaign contributions, even though such variation in benefits significantly affected whether farmers viewed the intervention as helpful. Our results suggest that even highly salient variation in policy outcomes may have limited mobilizing capacity in a polarized environment.

Working Paper (R&R at American Political Science Review)
Jake Alton Jares
Jake Alton Jares
PhD Candidate in Political Economics

I am a PhD candidate in political economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.