Political Preferences and the Spatial Distribution of Infrastructure: Evidence from California's High-Speed Rail
How do political preferences shape transportation policy? We study this question in the context of California's High-Speed Rail (CHSR). Combining geographic data on votes in a referendum on the CHSR with a model of its expected economic benefits, we estimate the weight of economic and non-economic considerations in voters' preferences. Then, comparing the proposed distribution of CHSR stations with alternative placements, we use a revealed-preference approach to estimate policymakers' preferences for redistribution and popular approval. While voters did respond to expected real-income benefits, non-economic factors were a more important driver of the spatial distribution of voters' preferences for the CHSR. While the voter-approved CHSR would have led to modest income gains, proposals with net income losses also would have been approved due to political preferences. For the planner, we identify strong preferences for popular approval. A politically-blind planner would have placed the stations closer to dense metro areas in California.
We thank Andrii Parkhomenko and Jonathan Dingel for their conference discussions, and seminar participants at ASSA Meetings, Berkeley, Chicago, CREI, Chicago-Princeton Spatial Economics Conference, Harvard-MIT, Michigan, NBER Transportation, Penn State, SED, Timbergen, Toronto, UCLA ITS, UTDT, and West Coast Spatial Workshop for helpful feedback. We thank the NBER and the US DOT for financial support. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Cecile Gaubert acknowledges support from NSF CAREER grant #1941917.