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The Politics of Ambiguity

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  • Alberto Alesina
  • Alex Cukierman

Abstract

Politicians have generally two motives: they wish to hold office as long as possible and wish to implement their preferred policies. Thus they face a trade-off between the policies which maximize their choices of reelection and their most preferred policies (or the policies most preferred by the constituency which they represent). This paper analyzes this trade-off in a dynamic electoral model in which the voters are not fully informed about the preferences of the incumbent. First, we show that in general there is incomplete policy convergence: the incumbent follows a policy which is intermediate between the other party ideal policy and his own ideal policy. Second, we show that under some circumstances, the incumbent has an incentive to choose procedures which make it more difficult for voters to pinpoint his preferences with absolute precision. Thus, politicians may prefer to be ambiguous and "hide", at least up to a certain extent, their true preferences. This result holds for a wide range of parameter values and, in some range, even if voters are risk averse.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2468.

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Date of creation: Dec 1987
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Publication status: published as Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 105, no. 4 (1990): 829-850.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2468

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  1. Kenneth Rogoff, 1987. "Equilibrium Political Budget Cycles," NBER Working Papers 2428, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Hinich, M., 1976. "Equilibrium in Spatial Voting: The Median Voter Result is an Artifact," Working Papers 119, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  3. Alesina, Alberto, 1987. "Macroeconomic Policy in a Two-party System as a Repeated Game," Scholarly Articles 4552531, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  4. Coughlin, Peter & Nitzan, Shmuel, 1981. "Directional and local electoral equilibria with probabilistic voting," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 226-239, April.
  5. Wittman, Donald, 1977. "Candidates with policy preferences: A dynamic model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 180-189, February.
  6. John Ledyard, 1984. "The pure theory of large two-candidate elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 44(1), pages 7-41, January.
  7. Rogoff, Kenneth & Sibert, Anne, 1988. "Elections and Macroeconomic Policy Cycles," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(1), pages 1-16, January.
  8. Alesina, Alberto, 1987. "Macroeconomic Policy in a Two-Party System as a Repeated Game," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 102(3), pages 651-78, August.
  9. Alesina, Alberto & Spear, Stephen, 1988. "An Overlapping Generations Model of Electoral Competition," Scholarly Articles 4553015, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  10. McKelvey, Richard D, 1975. "Policy Related Voting and Electoral Equilibrium," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 43(5-6), pages 815-43, Sept.-Nov.
  11. Cukierman, Alex, 1991. " Asymmetric Information and the Electoral Momentum of Public Opinion Polls," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 70(2), pages 181-213, May.
  12. Cukierman, Alex & Meltzer, Allan H, 1986. "A Positive Theory of Discretionary Policy, the Cost of Democratic Government and the Benefits of a Constitution," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 24(3), pages 367-88, July.
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