Research event

Political activists as free-riders: Evidence from a natural field experiment

An online presentation by Lukas Hensel (Blavatnik School of Governance, University of Oxford). This event is part of the Political Economy Lunch Seminar (PELS).

How does a citizen’s decision to participate in political activism depend on the participation of others? We examine this core question of collective action in a natural field experiment in collaboration with a major European party during a recent national election. In a seemingly unrelated party survey, we randomly assign canvassers to true information about the canvassing intentions of their peers. Using survey evidence and behavioural data from the party’s smartphone canvassing application, we find that treated canvassers significantly reduce both their canvassing intentions and behaviour when learning that their peers participate more in canvassing than previously believed. These treatment effects are particularly large for supporters who have weaker social ties to the party, and for supporters with higher career concerns within the party. The evidence implies that effort choices of political activists are, on average, strategic substitutes. However, social ties to other activists can act as a force for strategic complementarity.

The Political Economy Lunch Seminar offers an informal setting for Hertie School scholars and external speakers to present works in progress. Meetings are catered and last for only an hour. Seminars during the spring semester 2021 will take place exclusively online. Please send an email to Dayna Sadow (sadow[at]hertie-school[dot]org) or use the registration form on the individual event pages to receive a link; those who are currently on the distribution list will receive the link automatically by email. The seminar is hosted weekly during the semester at the Hertie School in Berlin. The upcoming events in the series are listed on this page and in the main events calendar. To explore past events click on the past events button.