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Is polarization bad?

  • Testa, Cecilia

The adverse effects of political and social polarization on government policies are empirically well documented, yet some democracies seem to cope well or even benefit from diversity. In this paper we develop a theoretical model to show how elections in polarized societies contribute to improve quality of government. We consider both polarization among citizens and political actors (political polarization), where the second is endogenously determined by parties competing to win the support of the majority of voters. We find that more heterogeneous societies are more likely to be politically polarized, but that the divergence of positions in the political arena helps the electorate control government corruption by raising electoral stakes. Our results, which are consistent with the findings of a substantial empirical literature, suggest that, when funneled into political competition, polarization may help improving quality of government and policies.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal European Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 56 (2012)
Issue (Month): 6 ()
Pages: 1104-1118

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Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:56:y:2012:i:6:p:1104-1118
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/eer

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  1. John Ferejohn, 1986. "Incumbent performance and electoral control," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 5-25, January.
  2. Valentino Larcinese & James M. Snyder (Jr.) & Cecilia Testa, 2006. "Testing models of distributive politics using exit polls to measure voter preferences and partisanship," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3605, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  3. Campos, Nauro F & Kuzeyev, Vitaliy S., 2007. "On the Dynamics of Ethnic Fractionalization," IZA Discussion Papers 2822, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Tim Besley & Maitreesh Ghatak, 2005. "Competition and incentives with motivated agents," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 928, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  5. Testa, Cecilia, 2010. "Bicameralism and corruption," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 181-198, February.
  6. Roger B. Myerson, 2006. "Bipolar Multicandidate Elections with Corruption," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 108(4), pages 727-742, December.
  7. Jos� G. Montalvo & Marta Reynal-Querol, 2005. "Ethnic Polarization, Potential Conflict, and Civil Wars," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 796-816, June.
  8. Alberto Alesina & Stephen E. Spear, 1987. "An Overlapping Generations Model of Electoral Competition," NBER Working Papers 2354, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Francesco Giovannoni & Daniel J. Seidmann, 2008. "Corruption and Power in Democracies," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 08/192, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  10. Banks, Jeffrey S. & Sundaram, Rangarajan K., 1998. "Optimal Retention in Agency Problems," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 293-323, October.
  11. T. Groseclose, 2007. "‘One and a Half Dimensional’ Preferences and Majority Rule," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 321-335, February.
  12. Elisabeth R. Gerber & Jeffrey B. Lewis, 2004. "Beyond the Median: Voter Preferences, District Heterogeneity, and Political Representation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1364-1383, December.
  13. Harrington, Joseph Jr., 1992. "The role of party reputation in the formation of policy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 107-121, October.
  14. David S. Lee & Enrico Moretti & Matthew J. Butler, 2004. "Do Voters Affect Or Elect Policies? Evidence from the U. S. House," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(3), pages 807-859, August.
  15. Poole, Keith T. & Rosenthal, Howard, 1996. "Are legislators ideologues or the agents of constituents?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(3-5), pages 707-717, April.
  16. José Garcia Montalvo & Marta Reynal-Querol, 2004. "Ethnic polarization, potential conflict and civil wars," Economics Working Papers 770, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Mar 2005.
  17. Gene Grossman & Elhanan Helpman, 1994. "Electoral Competition and Special Interest Politics," NBER Working Papers 4877, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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