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Political polarization and selection in representative democracies


  • Duell, Dominik
  • Valasek, Justin


While scholars and pundits alike have expressed concern regarding the increasingly “tribal” nature of political identities, there has been little analysis of how this social polarization impacts political selection. In this paper, we incorporate social identity into a principal-agent model of political representation and characterize the impact of social polarization on voting behavior. We show that identity has an instrumental impact on voting, as voters anticipate that political representatives’ ex post policy decisions have an in-group bias. We also conduct a laboratory experiment to test the main predictions of the theory. In contrast to existing work that suggests social polarization may have a positive impact by increasing participation, we show that social polarization causes political representatives to take policy decisions that diverge from the social optimum, and voters to select candidates with lower average quality.

Suggested Citation

  • Duell, Dominik & Valasek, Justin, 2019. "Political polarization and selection in representative democracies," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 168(C), pages 132-165.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:168:y:2019:i:c:p:132-165
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2019.10.004

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    More about this item


    Social identity; Political selection; Political polarization;

    JEL classification:

    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior


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