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POID Working Paper

Political ideology and innovation

We study the role of political ideology for a critical group of economic agents: inventors. We document that, in "politically polarizing" fields, inventors patent innovations aligned with their political beliefs. We construct a novel dataset matching data from the US Patent Office (USPTO) with individual Voter Register data for two large US states, and with the universe of US campaign contributions data. We proxy political ideology with individual party affiliation and focus on fields where the ideological distance between Republicans and Democrats is especially large in the general population. We find that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are: i) more likely to file green patents; ii) more likely to file female-health patents, and this persists in the subset of male inventors; and iii) less likely to file weapon-related patents. The magnitudes are large and range from one-fourth to one-third of total patent production in these technologies. This pattern is explained by inventors sorting into firms, rather than by within-firm dynamics. Socio-economic status, geography, or differential reactions to monetary incentives cannot explain our findings. Importantly, ideological sorting persists in research organizations, suggesting that inventors may derive intrinsic utility from producing innovation aligned with their beliefs. We rationalize our findings using a stylized model of the labor market where inventors derive amenity value from producing innovation close to their political ideology.

Gaia Dossi and Marta Morando

19 December 2023     Paper Number POIDWP088

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