Restoring Rights, Restoring Trust: Evidence that Felon Disenfranchisement Laws Decrease Trust and Cooperation with Government
Abstract: Felon disenfranchisement laws restrict the voting rights of more than 6 million US Citizens. Beyond the effects on voter turnout and electoral outcomes, how do these laws affect individual-level attitudes and behaviors, such as trust in government? This paper presents the results from two field experiments embedded within panel surveys conducted before and after statewide elections in Ohio and Virginia. The survey population is composed of citizens with felony convictions who are either eligible to vote, or to have their voting rights restored. Treatments provide varying assistance with the restoration of voting rights, as well as assistance with voter registration among those whose rights have already been restored. In comparison to a placebo group who received no information about voting rights, subjects who received treatments about the restoration of voting rights demonstrated stronger trust in government and the criminal justice system, and an increased willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Treatments also generated increases in political information and efficacy.