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Bootleggers, Baptists and ballots: coalitions in Arkansas’ alcohol-legalization elections


Yandle (Regulation 7(3):12–16, 1983) proposed a “bootleggers and Baptists” framework to explain political coalition formation. Using mandatory disclosure reports, I document actual examples of such coalitions in Arkansas county-level elections to legalize alcohol. The coalitions often are composed of liquor stores in bordering counties where alcohol already is legal, along with churches and other religious organizations. Funding comes primarily from existing liquor stores, although religious organizations provide funding in some cases. Religious organizations contribute to the coalition in several non-monetary forms, which I also document in this article by reference to news reports and other sources. The results confirm Yandle’s theory of tacit coalitions.

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  1. 1.

    The 18th amendment to the US Constitution was ratified by the required number of states in 1919, and nationwide prohibition of the Volstead Act prohibited the manufacture, importation, sale, and transport of alcohol starting in 1920. The 21st amendment was ratified in 1933, repealing the 18th amendment.

  2. 2.

    Moritz (2014) admits that she is unsure whether World War II mattered, but she says that critics claimed it did. A sympathetic history of Arkansas’s Baptists does acknowledge that the Baptists “toned down” their fight against alcohol after 1933, but “narrowed” their approach again during the war (Hinson 1979, p. 287).

  3. 3.

    Pew Research Center (2014) reports that 39% of Arkansans are Baptist (combining evangelicals, mainline, and historically black Baptist denominations). That’s about half of the 79% of Arkansans affiliated with any Christian denomination.

  4. 4.

    Arkansas code § 3–8-811(b).

  5. 5.

    I thank an anonymous referee for pointing out the importance of the 2015 change.

  6. 6.

    Arkansas code § 3–4-205(b)(1)(A).


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Comments from Harry David, Daniel Bennet, Christy Horpedahl, and three anonymous referees improved the paper considerably. The paper was presented at the 2017 Southern Economic Association conference in Tampa, FL at the 2018 Public Choice Society Meetings in Charleston, SC. The Arkansas Ethics Commission, especially Teresa Hastings, was very helpful in providing access to their archives for the data relied on in this paper. Thomas Moore provided excellent research assistance.

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Correspondence to Jeremy Horpedahl.

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Horpedahl, J. Bootleggers, Baptists and ballots: coalitions in Arkansas’ alcohol-legalization elections. Public Choice 188, 203–219 (2021).

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  • Bootleggers and Baptists
  • Coalitions
  • Alcohol
  • Dry counties

JEL Classification

  • D72
  • K23