Published on Development Impact

The Impact of the 4th of July

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Happy 4th of July. Believe it or not, there is a recent paper which aims to estimate the impact of celebrating this holiday. Here’s the abstract: “Do childhood events shape adult political views and behavior? This paper investigates the impact of Fourth of July celebrations in the US during childhood on partisanship and participation later in life. Using daily precipitation data to proxy for exogenous variation in participation on Fourth of July as a child, we examine the role of the celebrations for people born in 1920-1990. We find that days without rain on Fourth of July in childhood have lifelong effects. In particular, they shift adult views and behavior in favor of the Republicans and increase later-life political participation. Our estimates are significant: one Fourth of July without rain before age 18 raises the likelihood of identifying as a Republican by 2 percent and voting for the Republican candidate by 4 percent. It also increases voter turnout by 0.9 percent and boosts political campaign contributions by 3 percent. Taken together, the evidence suggests that important childhood events can have persistent effects on political beliefs and participation and that Fourth of July celebrations in the US affect the nation’s political landscape.”

The paper relies on within county differences across cohorts in rainfall during childhood 4th of July, and includes state-specific time trends to allow for climate change. They also do a nice falsification test, showing no impacts of rain on July 2, 3 or 5 or 6.

The impacts are found to be drive by Republican-dominated counties, with no effect in Democratic counties, and although the impact on likelihood of voting remains strong for later cohorts, the impact on identifying as a Republican does not appear for the most recent cohorts, which the authors speculate may be due to the celebrations becoming more apolitical.

Everytime I think I’ve seen the last possible use of rainfall as an instrument, another creative use comes along. I do have some reservations about it in many cases, since I think it is running the risk of being like “common law country” or “settler mortality” in being seen as an instrument for every endogeneous variable that people come across (and therefore not valid for any). However, in this case the daily variation in rainfall and falsification tests on days around July 4th are useful checks that make the identification seem more compelling.


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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