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Does informative media commentary reduce politicians' incentives to pander?

  • Ashworth, Scott
  • Shotts, Kenneth W.
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    Elections sometimes give policy makers incentives to pander, i.e., to implement a policy that voters think is in their best interest, even though the policy maker knows that a different policy is actually better for the voters. Pandering incentives are typically attenuated when voters learn, prior to the election, whether the policy chosen by the incumbent truly was in their best interest. This suggests that the media can improve accountability by reporting to voters information about whether an incumbent made good policy choices. We show that, although media monitoring does sometimes eliminate the incumbent's incentive to pander, in other cases it makes the problem of pandering worse. Furthermore, in some circumstances incumbent incentives are improved when the media acts as a "yes man"--suppressing some information that indicates the policy maker made the wrong choice. We explain these seemingly paradoxical results by focusing on how media commentary affects voters' tendency to apply an asymmetric burden of proof to the incumbent, based on whether she pursues popular or unpopular policies.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047-2727(10)00078-2
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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

    Volume (Year): 94 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 11-12 (December)
    Pages: 838-847

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:94:y:2010:i:11-12:p:838-847
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578

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    1. Tim Groseclose & Jeffrey Milyo, 2005. "A Measure of Media Bias," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(4), pages 1191-1237.
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    5. Eric Maskin, 2003. "The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government," Theory workshop papers 505798000000000076, UCLA Department of Economics.
    6. Andrea Prat, 2002. "The Wrong Kind of Transparency," STICERD - Theoretical Economics Paper Series 439, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    7. Scharfstein, David S & Stein, Jeremy C, 1990. "Herd Behavior and Investment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 465-79, June.
    8. David Strömberg, 2004. "Mass Media Competition, Political Competition, and Public Policy," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(1), pages 265-284.
    9. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 2010. "A theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom and cultural change as informational Cascades," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1193, David K. Levine.
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