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Strategic Ambiguity in Electoral Competition

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  • Enriqueta Aragones
  • Zvika Neeman

Abstract

Many have observed that political candidates running for election are often purposefully expressing themselves in vague and ambiguous terms. Moreover, the candidates' ambiguity typically involves precisely those issues which stand in the center of public debate. In this paper, we provide a simple formal model of this phenomenon. We assume that candidates prefer to be ambiguous, at least as long as it does not impair their chances to be elected. One reason for their preference for ambiguity is that the more ambiguous a candidate is, the less he is committed to specific policies when in office, and the more freedom he has when confroting unforeseen contingencies. We model the electoral competition between two candidates as a two-stage game. In the first stage of the game, the candidates simultaneously choose their ideologies, and in the second stage of the game, they simulataneously choose their level of ambiguity. Our results show that an equilibrium always exists, and the two candidates always choose the same level of strategic ambiguity. We find that for certain ranges of parameter values, both candidates will express themselves in ambiguous terms. More interestingly, the candidates may find it advantageous to differentiate themselves ideologically. Thus, we show the existence of an equilibrium where one candidate chooses, say, a "leftist" ideology, the other candidate chooses a "centrist" ideology and both candidates remain vague regarding their future policies in case they win the election.

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Paper provided by Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science in its series Discussion Papers with number 1083.

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Date of creation: Jan 1994
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Handle: RePEc:nwu:cmsems:1083

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  1. Alberto Alesina & Alex Cukierman, 1987. "The Politics of Ambiguity," NBER Working Papers 2468, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. d'ASPREMONT, Claude & GABSZEWICZ, Jean J. & THISSE, Jacques-François, . "On Hotelling's "Stability in competition"," CORE Discussion Papers RP -385, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  3. Palfrey, Thomas R, 1984. "Spatial Equilibrium with Entry," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(1), pages 139-56, January.
  4. Roger B. Myerson, 1991. "Effectiveness of Electoral Systems for Reducing Government Corruption: A Game-Theoretic Analysis," Discussion Papers 956, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  5. 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.
  6. Richard McKelvey, 1980. "Ambiguity in spatial models of policy formation," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 35(4), pages 385-402, January.
  7. Rebecca B. Morton & Roger B. Myerson, 1992. "Campaign Spending with Impressionable Voters," Discussion Papers 1023, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Helios Herrera & David K Levine & Cesar Martinelli, 2007. "Policy Platforms, Campaign Spending and Voter Participation," Levine's Working Paper Archive 618897000000000935, David K. Levine.
  2. Agustín Casas, 2013. "Partisan politics : parties, primaries and elections," Economics Working Papers we1315, Universidad Carlos III, Departamento de Economía.
  3. Thomas Jensen, 2009. "Projection effects and strategic ambiguity in electoral competition," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 141(1), pages 213-232, October.
  4. Torun Dewan & David P. Myatt, 2007. "The Qualities of Leadership:Direction, Communication, and Obfuscation," STICERD - Political Economy and Public Policy Paper Series 24, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  5. Adam Meirowitz, 2005. "Keeping the other candidate guessing: Electoral competition when preferences are private information," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 122(3), pages 299-318, March.
  6. Enriqueta Aragonés & Andrew Postlewaite, 1999. "Ambiguity in election games," Economics Working Papers 364, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  7. James E. Anderson & Maurizio Zanardi, 2004. "Political Pressure Deflection," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 594, Boston College Department of Economics.
  8. Thomas Jensen, 2005. "Can Ambiguity in Electoral Competition be Explained by Projection Effects in Voters' Perceptions?," Discussion Papers 05-25, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  9. Jean-François Laslier, 2003. "Ambiguity in electoral competition," Working Papers hal-00242944, HAL.
  10. Guido, Cataife, 2007. "The pronouncements of paranoid politicians," MPRA Paper 4473, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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