Information, mobilization, and demand for redistribution: A survey experiment in South Africa

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University of Cape Town


This paper presents a survey experiment in South Africa that focuses on the role of mobilization for demand for redistribution. Previous literature has found that providing information on inequality raises concerns about inequality but need not lead to a change in tax preferences. We argue that mobilization might provide the missing link between information and political behavior regarding demand for redistribution. We operationalize mobilization from an individual perspective as the belief that a decrease in inequality is feasible. If this belief is absent, information about inequality might simply increase the pessimism of respondents and remain inconsequential for policy preferences. We test this idea with a survey experiment in two townships of Cape Town, which includes one pure information and two mobilization treatments. The first mobilization treatment informs respondents about the (much lower inequality) in neighboring countries. The second provides elite support for redistribution via video messages of South African leaders. Consistent with previous literature, we find that pure information on inequality increases concern for inequality but has no effects on tax preferences. Mobilization treatments, in contrast, shake the belief that a decrease in inequality is feasible and consequently lead to a change in tax preferences. While the mechanism regarding information on lower inequality in neighboring countries is as expected, the one for the videos is puzzling: videos make people believe that inequality is more, instead of less, inevitable, and this leads to lower tax preferences. We conjecture that this is due to a lack of credibility of the leaders considered which makes viewers more pessimistic and has a demobilizing effect. An important innovation of the survey experiment is action outcomes where respondents are offered to send an SMS or sign a petition to disseminate their tax preferences.

Miquel Pellicer: GIGA Hamburg and SALDRU, University of Cape Town Patrizio Piraino: School of Economics and SALDRU, University of Cape Town Eva Wegner: GIGA Hamburg and SALDRU, University of Cape Town. Corresponding Author: eva.wegner@ We would like to acknowledge the funding of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme through the "NOPOOR - Enhancing knowledge for renewed policies against poverty” project. We would also like to thank the participants at the 2014 Toronto Political BehaviourWorkshop, of the panel on redistribution at the EPSA Annual Meeting (2014), and at the UNU-WIDER conference on \Inequality measurement, trends, impacts, and policies” for helpful comments. We would also like to thank Jan Schenk for his feedback on our questionnaire and treatment design throughout this project.