Does Winning $800 Really Make You More Right Wing?

A few days ago a pair of British researchers released a paper that presented a startling conclusion: winning the lottery makes you more conservative. Apparently, having money, even if it’s just money you won randomly, pushes you to the right.

This got a lot of attention, and last night I finally got around to reading a summary of the paper. I was struck by the actual results, which nobody had highlighted. You can see it in the chart on the right, which shows the percentage of people who switched from supporting the Labor Party to supporting the Conservative Party. It’s about 13 percent for non-winners, 14 percent for small winners, and 17 percent for winners of £500 or more.

And….I dunno. Aside from technical arguments about sample size, appropriate statistics, robustness, and so forth, I just have to say that this seems unlikely. Even for people with modest incomes, a lottery win of $800 just can’t be that big a deal. I know that four percentage points isn’t really that large, but even four percentage points seems like an implausibly large effect for a one-time windfall of a few hundred dollars.

At first, I thought I had a clever explanation for this: perhaps being taxed on lottery winnings pushes people a bit to the right. It’s a big bite all at once, and it’s the kind of thing that often strikes people as unfair. But no. It turns out that lottery winnings are tax-free in Britain. So that’s not it.

Bottom line: the results of this study are intuitively appealing, since having money is pretty obviously associated with being more conservative. But I have a hard time believing this result anyway. I’d sure like to see a follow-up in some other country before I take it too seriously.