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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. Valentino Larcinese & James M. Snyder & Cecilia Testa, 2009. "Testing Models of Distributive Politics using Exit Polls to Measure Voters Preferences and Partisanship," Development Working Papers 278, Centro Studi Luca d\'Agliano, University of Milano.
  2. T. Groseclose, 2007. "‘One and a Half Dimensional’ Preferences and Majority Rule," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 321-335, February.
  3. John Ferejohn, 1986. "Incumbent performance and electoral control," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 5-25, January.
  4. Roger B. Myerson, 2006. "Bipolar Multicandidate Elections with Corruption," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 108(4), pages 727-742, December.
  5. Campos, Nauro F & Kuzeyev, Vitaliy S., 2007. "On the Dynamics of Ethnic Fractionalization," IZA Discussion Papers 2822, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. 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.
  7. Grossman, Gene M & Helpman, Elhanan, 1996. "Electoral Competition and Special Interest Politics," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(2), pages 265-86, April.
  8. Banks, Jeffrey S. & Sundaram, Rangarajan K., 1998. "Optimal Retention in Agency Problems," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 293-323, October.
  9. Francesco Giovannoni, 2012. "Corruption and Power in Democracies," Bristol Economics Discussion Papers 12/624, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  10. Besley, Timothy J. & Ghatak, Maitreesh, 2004. "Competition and Incentives with Motivated Agents," CEPR Discussion Papers 4641, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Alesina, Alberto & Spear, Stephen E., 1988. "An overlapping generations model of electoral competition," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 359-379, December.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Testa, Cecilia, 2010. "Bicameralism and corruption," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 181-198, February.
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