Diana van Patten (Yale), “Voting on a Trade Agreement: Firm Networks and Attitudes Towards Openness"
This paper exploits a natural experiment to study the extent to which attitudes towards trade reflect economic fundamentals. In 2007, Costa Rica was the first developing country to put a free trade agreement (FTA) to a national referendum; with only one question on the ballot, 60% of Costa Rican adult citizens casted a vote on whether they wanted a trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) to be ratified, or not. We use disaggregated results of the referendum and match these results with detailed employer-employee data, firm customs and balance-sheet data, firm-to-firm transactions data, and data on household composition and expenditures. We document that a firm’s exposure to the FTA significantly influences the attitudes of its employees towards trade policy. We find that high-skilled workers are, on average, more likely to be in favor of the free trade agreement, and that within-industry heterogeneity is key in explaining votes, as compared with sector exposure. We find a role for local labor market competition in explaining vote shares, in particular for households employed in non-tradable sectors. Finally, we compare the importance of the earnings channel with respect to the expenditures channel, and document that both are salient in explaining voting behavior.
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