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On the Feasibility of Unpopular Policies under Re-Election Concerns


  • Y. Stephen Chiu

    () (Department of Decision Sciences and Managerial Economics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)


A common concern about political decision making is that re-election concerns compel incumbent politicians to select policies that, although popular among the electorate, are inferior to available, less popular alternatives. Through studying a series of models, I find that, as long as politicians differ solely in the utility derived from holding office, there always exists an equilibrium where incumbents with strong re-election concerns still make efficient policy choices. However, when other aspects of heterogeneity among politicians are present, incumbents with strong re-election concerns may have the incentive to condition their decisions according to policy popularity. Suppose, for instance, some politicians are dumb in the sense that they are even more ignorant about policy efficacy than the public. To avoid being viewed as dumb, nondumb politicians (especially those with strong reelection concerns) may accept popular but inefficient policies or reject unpopular but efficient policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Y. Stephen Chiu, 2002. "On the Feasibility of Unpopular Policies under Re-Election Concerns," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 68(4), pages 841-858, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:68:4:y:2002:p:841-858

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    Cited by:

    1. Klaas J. Beniers, 2005. "Party Governance and the Selection of Parliamentarians," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 05-080/1, Tinbergen Institute.
    2. Frisell, Lars, 2004. "Populism," Working Paper Series 166, Sveriges Riksbank (Central Bank of Sweden).
    3. Louis Jaeck, 2011. "Information and political failures: to what extent does rational ignorance explain irrational beliefs formation?," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 287-301, September.
    4. Guido Merzoni & Federico Trombetta, 2016. "The cost of doing the right thing. A model of populism with rent-seeking politicians and the economic crisis," DISEIS - Quaderni del Dipartimento di Economia internazionale, delle istituzioni e dello sviluppo dis1602, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Dipartimento di Economia internazionale, delle istituzioni e dello sviluppo (DISEIS).
    5. Klaas Beniers & Robert Dur, 2007. "Politicians’ motivation, political culture, and electoral competition," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 14(1), pages 29-54, February.
    6. Klaas J. Beniers & Robert Dur, 2004. "Politicians’ Motivation, Political Culture, and Electoral Competition," CESifo Working Paper Series 1228, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. Frisell, Lars, 2009. "A theory of self-fulfilling political expectations," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(5-6), pages 715-720, June.
    8. Lydia Mechtenberg, 2007. "Ideology Without Ideologists," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2007-021, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.

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