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Ambiguity and Extremism in Elections

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  • Alberto Alesina
  • Richard Holden

Abstract

We analyze a model in which voters are uncertain about the policy preferences of candidates. Two forces affect the probability of electoral success: proximity to the median voter and campaign contributions. First, we show how campaign contributions affect elections. Then we show how the candidates may wish to announce a range of policy preferences, rather than a single point. This strategic ambiguity balances voter beliefs about the appeal of candidates both to the median voter and to the campaign contributors. If primaries precede a general election, they add another incentive for ambiguity, because in the primaries the candidates do not want to reveal too much information, to maintain some freedom of movement in the policy space for the general election. Ambiguity has an option value.
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Suggested Citation

  • Alberto Alesina & Richard Holden, 2008. "Ambiguity and Extremism in Elections," Levine's Working Paper Archive 122247000000002358, David K. Levine.
  • Handle: RePEc:cla:levarc:122247000000002358
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2005. "Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(4), pages 1283-1330.
    2. Campante, Filipe R., 2011. "Redistribution in a model of voting and campaign contributions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(7-8), pages 646-656, August.
    3. Callander, Steven & Wilkie, Simon, 2007. "Lies, damned lies, and political campaigns," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 60(2), pages 262-286, August.
    4. repec:cup:apsrev:v:66:y:1972:i:02:p:555-568_13 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Alesina, Alberto & Rosenthal, Howard, 2000. "Polarized platforms and moderate policies with checks and balances," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 1-20, January.
    6. Alberto Alesina & Alex Cukierman, 1990. "The Politics of Ambiguity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(4), pages 829-850.
    7. Banks, Jeffrey S & Sobel, Joel, 1987. "Equilibrium Selection in Signaling Games," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(3), pages 647-661, May.
    8. Enriqueta Aragonés & Andrew Postlewaite, 1999. "Ambiguity in election games," Economics Working Papers 364, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    9. Alesina, Alberto, 1988. "Credibility and Policy Convergence in a Two-Party System with Rational Voters," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 796-805, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hummel, Patrick, 2013. "Candidate strategies in primaries and general elections with candidates of heterogeneous quality," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 85-102.
    2. Benjamin Ogden, 2017. "The Imperfect Beliefs Voting Model," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2017-20, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    3. repec:kap:pubcho:v:173:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11127-017-0461-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Guerriero, Carmine, 2013. "The political economy of incentive regulation: Theory and evidence from US states," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 91-107.
    5. Guerriero, Carmine, 2011. "Accountability in government and regulatory policies: Theory and evidence," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 453-469.
    6. Egil Matsen & Øystein Thøgersen, 2010. "Habit formation, strategic extremism, and debt policy," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 145(1), pages 165-180, October.
    7. Hummel, Patrick, 2010. "Flip-flopping from primaries to general elections," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(11-12), pages 1020-1027, December.
    8. Caterina Gennaioli, 2010. "Go Divisive or Not? How Political Campaigns Affect Turnout," CESifo Working Paper Series 3298, CESifo Group Munich.
    9. Raphael Boleslavsky & Christopher Cotton, 2015. "Information and Extremism in Elections," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(1), pages 165-207, February.
    10. Tarhan, Simge, 2010. "Campaign Contributions and Political Polarization," MPRA Paper 29617, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 15 Mar 2011.

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    JEL classification:

    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government

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