The authors of the study, Moritz Hess (University of Mannheim), Prof. Dr. Christian von Scheve (Freie Universität Berlin and DIW Berlin), Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schupp (DIW Berlin and Freie Universität Berlin), and Prof. Dr. Gert G. Wagner (DIW Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin) view the above-average risk tolerance found among Bundestag representatives as positive. According to sociologist and lead author of the study Moritz Hess, “Otherwise important societal decisions often wouldn’t be made due to the almost incalculable risks involved. This would lead to stagnation and social standstill.” The authors do not interpret the higher risk-tolerance found among politicians as a threat to democracy. “The results show a successful and sensible division of labor among citizens, voters, and politicians,” says economist Gert G. Wagner. Democratic structures and parliamentary processes, he argues, act as a brake on the individual risk propensity of elected representatives and politicians.
For their study, the research team distributed written questionnaires to all 620 members of the 17th German Bundestag in late 2011. Twenty-eight percent of Bundestag members responded. Comparisons with the statistical characteristics of all current Bundestag representatives showed that the respondents comprise a representative sample of Bundestag members. SOEP data were used to obtain a figure for the risk tolerance of the general population for comparison with the figures for Bundestag members.
The questions posed to Bundestag members were formulated analogously to the questions in the standard SOEP questionnaire. Politicians were asked to rate their own risk tolerance on a scale from zero (= not at all risk-tolerant) to ten (= very risk-tolerant). They rated both their general risk tolerance as well as their specific risk tolerance in the areas of driving, making financial investments, sports and leisure activities, career, health, and trust towards strangers. They also rated their risk tolerance in regard to political decisions. No questions on party affiliation were asked in order to exclude the possibility that results could be used for partisan political purposes.
- Hess, M., von Scheve, C., Schupp, J., Wagner. G. G. (2013): Members of German Federal Parliament More Risk-Loving Than General Population, in: DIW Economic Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2013, pp. 20-24.
- Heß, M., von Scheve, C., Schupp, J., Wagner. G. G. (2013): Sind Politiker risikofreudiger als das Volk? Eine empirische Studie zu Mitgliedern des Deutschen Bundestags, SOEPpaper No. 545, DIW Berlin.