Policies, Politics, and Polities
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This dissertation addresses applied causal effect estimation concerning three topics in public choice and political economics. Chapter One studies the effect of prison privatization and public official corruption on how often convicted criminals receive prison sentences over probation. This question is modeled through a four-stage, three-agent, incomplete information game with a lobbying-susceptible judicial authority. Using 600,000 federal trials and an instrumental variables control function, results suggest that, with high corruption levels, an additional private prison increases incarceration likelihood by 0.4%. This effect varies by crime type and demographic subgroup; groups with lower initial levels of incarceration see larger increases. Chapter Two asks how increases in insurance coverage following the Affordable Care Act altered voting behavior to assess public reception of the act. A theoretic framework for insurance coverage decision-making before and after the policy shows the interaction of health beliefs and wealth levels determine welfare changes. The framework is tested using spatially-disaggregated insurance coverage rates before and after the policy and national precinct-level presidential election results. Overall effects and propensity score-matched sets of geographies across Medicaid expansion discontinuities are considered. Voting impacts from Medicaid coverage increases depended on income levels, with poorer areas of coverage gain swinging toward Clinton and richer areas toward Trump. Net effects were comparable in size to effects from local unemployment rate changes. Chapter Three identifies how individuals value political similarity in church attendance by using 270,000 geocoded church addresses, precinct election results, and anonymized smartphone location data. First, instrumenting for home-church distances with work-church distances, the average churchgoer spends $20-60 per year in fuel costs to reduce partisan disagreement. Second, a panel of daily church attendance in the months before and after the 2016 presidential election demonstrates attendance rate decline among the politically-mismatched, suggesting an additional $7-17 in yearly fuel expenditure and $160-265 in church donations would be paid if political differences were removed. Third, those with higher initial political disagreement levels were more likely to change churches. The combined valuation represents 16-42% of average yearly Christian church donations.