In most national elections, voters face a key choice between continuity and change. Electoral turnovers occur when the incumbent candidate or party fails to win reelection. To understand how turnovers affect national outcomes, we study the universe of presidential and parliamentary elections held since 1945. We document the prevalence of turnovers over time and estimate their effects on economic performance, trade, human development, conflict, and democracy. Using a close-elections regression discontinuity design (RDD) across countries, we show that turnovers improve country performance. These effects are not driven by differences in the characteristics of challengers, or by the fact that challengers systematically increase the level of government intervention in the economy. Electing new leaders leads to more policy change, it improves governance, and it reduces perceived corruption, consistent with the expectation that recently elected leaders exert more effort due to stronger reputation concerns.
We thank Daron Acemoglu, Abhijit Banerjee, Laurent Bouton, Rafael Di Tella, Dave Donaldson, Allan Drazen, Esther Duflo, Amory Gethin, Edward Glaeser, Sergei Guriev, Soeren Henn, Ro’ee Levy, Andy Newman, Ben Olken, Torsten Persson, Andrea Prat, Alessandro Riboni, Jesse Shapiro, Pierre-Louis V´ezina, Matthew Weinzierl, and Katia Zhuravskaya as well as seminar and workshop participants at the 2020 APSA conference, the 2022 SIOE conference, the 2022 CEPR Political Economy Symposium, the 2022 Australian Political EconomyWorkshop, the 2022 King’s College-Paris Dauphine DemocracyWorkshop, the 2022 Petralia Workshop, Boston University, Brown University, Collegio Carlo Alberto, CREST- ´ Ecole Polytechnique, ENSGATE Applied Seminar, Harvard University, King’s College London, MIT, the University of Maryland, the University of St. Gallen, Sciences Po, Trinity College Dublin, and Tufts University for helpful feedback. Martin Albouy, Charlotte Combier, Christophe Misner, Mat´eo Petel, Carolina Ranfagni, and Thomas Van Casteren provided outstanding research assistance. All errors are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
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