Does Habit Breed Political Participation? Experimental Evidence on Tax Compliance in Uruguay


Thursday, April 21, 2016, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, 124 Mount Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Cambridge, MA

Robson Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley Thad Dunning will present on his recent work "Does Habit Breed Political Participation? Experimental Evidence on Tax Compliance in Uruguay."  Co-authored with Felipe Monestier (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay), Rafael Piñeiro (Universidad Católica, Uruguay), Fernando Rosenblatt (Universidad Diego Portales, Chile), and Guadalupe Tuñón (University of California, Berkeley).  This event is part of the Comparative Democracy Seminar Series.

Abstract:  Political participation involves routinized, repeated behaviors---and repetition may itself breed habits of citizenship that exert a causal influence on behavior. The force of habit also implies the possibility of virtuous or vicious cycles in civic participation, raising the question of how participatory practices are formed or disrupted. We study the effects of a randomized lottery in Montevideo, Uruguay, which is designed both to reward and induce tax compliance, a critical aspect of citizen-state interaction and a key facet of state capacity. This policy raffles tax holidays, or year-long interruptions of payments, among taxpayers who are current on past payments. Drawing on this natural experiment, we find that far from inducing compliance, Montevideo's tax holiday lottery inhibits it: among eligible taxpayers, winning the lottery results in a 3 percentage-point reduction in compliance after the end of the holiday, an effect that lasts for up to three years.  We also use field and survey experiments to disentangle informational explanations for the negative effect from the effects of habit disruption. Our findings on the importance of habit have both social scientific and policy implications.

About the Speaker:

Thad Dunning is Robson Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley and directs the Center on the Politics of Development. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on comparative politics, political economy, and methodology. His substantive research in Latin America, Africa, and India has focused on ethnic voting, the consequences of political representation for minority groups, the role of intermediaries in distributing benefits in clientelist systems, and the consequences of natural resource wealth for democracy.  His methodological writings focus on causal inference, statistical analysis, natural experiments, and the integration of quantitative and qualitative methods. Dunning is the author of several award-winning books, including Crude Democracy: Natural Resource Wealth and Political Regimes (2008, Cambridge University Press), which received the Best Book Award from the APSA 's Comparative Democratization Section); Natural Experiments in the Social Sciences: A Design-Based Approach (2012, Cambridge University Press), which won the Best Book Award of the ASPA's Experimental Research Section; and Brokers, Voters, and Clientelism: The Puzzle of Distributive Politics (2013, Cambridge University Press, co-authored with Susan Stokes, Marcelo Nazareno, and Valeria Brusco), which was awarded the Luebbert Prize from the APSA's Comparative Politics section and the Best Book Award from the APSA 's Comparative Democratization Section. His articles have also appeared in the American Political Science ReviewComparative Political StudiesInternational OrganizationJournal of Conflict ResolutionPolitical AnalysisStudies in Comparative International Development, and other journals. Dunning received a Ph.D. degree in political science and an M.A. degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley (2006). Before returning to Berkeley, he was Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

Listen to a recording of the event: