Exit, Voice and Political Change: Evidence from Swedish Mass Migration to the United States

Mounir Karadja (IIES, Stockholm University)
Erik Prawitz (IIES, Stockholm University)

Abstract: During the Age of Mass Migration, 30 million Europeans immigrated to the United States. We study the long-term political effects of this large-scale migration episode on origin communities using detailed historical data from Sweden, a major sending country in the period. To instrument for emigration cumulated over several decades, we exploit severe local frost shocks that sparked an initial wave of emigration, interacted with within-country travel costs. Because Swedish emigration was highly path dependent, the initial shocks strongly predict total emigration over 50 years. Our estimates show that emigration substantially increased membership in local labor organizations, the strongest political opposition groups at the time. Furthermore, emigration caused greater strike participation, and mobilized voter turnout and support for left-wing parties in national elections. We interpret these findings as an increase in citizens' bargaining power and demand for political change. Emigration also had effects on the supply of political change. Municipalities with more emigration exhibit higher welfare expenditures per capita, both before and after the introduction of democracy. In addition, local governments become more likely to adopt inclusive political institutions. Together, our findings indicate that large-scale emigration can achieve significant and long-lasting effects on the political equilibrium in origin communities.

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