Austerity and the rise of the Nazi party
NBER Working Paper No. 24106
The current historical consensus on the economic causes of the inexorable Nazi electoral success between 1930 and 1933 suggests this was largely related to the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression (high unemployment and financial instability). However, these factors cannot fully account for the Nazi’s electoral success. Alternatively it has been speculated that fiscally contractionary austerity measures, including spending cuts and tax rises, contributed to votes for the Nazi party especially among middle- and upper-classes who had more to lose from them. We use voting data from 1,024 districts in Germany on votes cast for the Nazi and rival Communist and Center parties between 1930 and 1933, evaluating whether radical austerity measures, measured as the combination of tax increases and spending cuts, contributed to the rise of the Nazis. Our analysis shows that chancellor Brüning’s austerity measures were positively associated with increasing vote shares for the Nazi party. Depending on how we measure austerity and the elections we consider, each 1 standard deviation increase in austerity is associated with a 2 to 5 percentage point increase in vote share for the Nazis. Consistent with existing evidence, we find that unemployment rates were linked with greater votes for the Communist party. Our findings are robust to a range of specifications including a border-pair policy discontinuity design and alternative measures of radicalization such as Nazi party membership. The coalition that allowed a majority to form government in March 1933 might not have been able to form had fiscal policy been more expansionary.
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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24106