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Empirics of the median voter: democracy, redistribution and the role of the middle class


This paper improves the empirical investigation on the effectiveness of the median voter theorem. Using high quality data, it is possible to directly observe individual net cash transfers in several countries and to investigate the effects of taxes and transfers on different social classes and in aggregate. This allows testing of both the “redistribution hypothesis” (more inequality leads to more redistribution in aggregate) and the “median voter hypothesis” (the middle class plays a special role in policy making). Results suggest acceptance of the former and reject on, or at least questioning, of the latter. Not only the gains from redistribution are negligible for the middle class, but also the link between income and redistribution is also lower for it than for any other class of income. Moreover, the strength of the median voter seems to fall over time. Finally, the amount of redistribution targeted to the middle class is lower in more asymmetric societies, a result that contrasts strongly with the median voter theorem.

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Correspondence to Francesco Scervini.

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Scervini, F. Empirics of the median voter: democracy, redistribution and the role of the middle class. J Econ Inequal 10, 529–550 (2012).

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  • Income distribution
  • Cash redistribution
  • Political process
  • Median voter theorem

JEL Classification

  • C23
  • D31
  • D72
  • H24