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Is polarization bad?

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  • Testa, Cecilia

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Testa, Cecilia, 2012. "Is polarization bad?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(6), pages 1104-1118.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:eecrev:v:56:y:2012:i:6:p:1104-1118
    DOI: 10.1016/j.euroecorev.2012.04.005
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. José 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jain, Sanjay & Majumdar, Sumon & Mukand, Sharun W, 2014. "Walk the line: Conflict, state capacity and the political dynamics of reform," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 150-166.
    2. Hans Gersbach & Philippe Muller & Oriol Tejada, 2017. "A Dynamic Model of Electoral Competition with Costly Policy Changes," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 17/270, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
    3. Roy, Sunanda & Wu, Kuan Chuen & Chandra, Abhijit, 2015. "Uncovering the "Will of the People": Measuring Preference Polarization among Voters," Staff General Research Papers Archive 38358, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    4. Mickael Melki & Andrew Pickering, 2016. "Polarization and Corruption in America," Discussion Papers 16/09, Department of Economics, University of York.
    5. Hans Gersbach & Philippe Muller & Oriol Tejada, 2015. "Costs of Change, Political Polarization, and Re-election Hurdles," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 15/222, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
    6. Gersbach, Hans & Muller, Philippe & Tejada, Oriol, 2016. "The Effects of Higher Re-election Hurdles and Costs of Policy Change on Political Polarization," CEPR Discussion Papers 11375, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Diversity; Polarization; Elections; Corruption;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions

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