SBEE Lecture Series: Benjamin Enke

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Ross School of Business, Room 1220

The Social, Behavioral and Experimental Economics lecture series is sponsored by the School of Information, the Ross School of Business and the Department of Economics. Speakers from U.S. and international universities present their research at weekly seminars during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Moral Values and Voting


This paper studies the supply of and demand for moral values in recent U.S. presidential elections. The hypothesis is that people exhibit heterogeneity in their adherence to “individualizing” relative to “communal” moral values and that politicians’ vote shares reflect the interaction of their relative moral appeal and the values of the electorate. To investigate the supply of morality, a text analysis of campaign documents classifies all candidates for the presidency since 2008 along the moral individualism vs. communalism dimension. On the demand-side, the analysis exploits two separate survey datasets to link the structure of voters’ moral values to election outcomes, both across individuals and across counties. The results document that heterogeneity in moral values is systematically related to voting behavior in ways that are predicted by supply-side text analyses. For example, Donald Trump’s rhetoric exhibits the largest communal moral appeal among all recent presidential nominees. This pattern is matched on the demand-side, where communal values are strongly correlated with votes for Trump in the primaries, the difference in votes between Trump and past Republicans in the presidential election, and increases in voter turnout in 2016. Similarly tight connections between supply- and demand-side analyses hold for almost all contenders for the presidency in recent years, hence suggesting that morality is a key determinant of election outcomes more generally. Still, a key difference between 2016 and earlier elections appears to be the salience of moral threat in political language.

About the speaker 

Benjamin Enke is an Assistant Professor at Harvard's Department of Economics and a Faculty Research Fellow at the NBER. Enke received his Ph.D. in Economics from Bonn in 2016. His research focuses on experimental, behavioral, and cultural economics, aiming to shed light on the foundations of individual and collective decision making by integrating insights from psychology and anthropology into economics. Methodologically, his work relies on some combination of experiments and surveys. Substantively, Enke has worked on cultural variation in preferences, beliefs and values as well as bounded rationality in belief formation and choice.