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Flip-Flopping: Ideological Adjustment Costs in the United States Senate


  • Jason M. DeBacker


Using a long panel of roll call voting data, I find that “flip-flopping" senators face significant electoral costs when changing positions. In models of electoral competition, as the costs to candidates changing position approach zero, the equilibrium prediction is the convergence of platforms. Such convergence is at odds with empirical observation. Using a dynamic, structural model of candidate positioning, I identify the nature of the costs associated with changing position that may result in such non-convergence.

Suggested Citation

  • Jason M. DeBacker, 2014. "Flip-Flopping: Ideological Adjustment Costs in the United States Senate," Working Papers 201403, Middle Tennessee State University, Department of Economics and Finance.
  • Handle: RePEc:mts:wpaper:201403

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bernhardt, M. Daniel & Ingerman, Daniel E., 1985. "Candidate reputations and the `incumbency effect'," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 47-67, June.
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    4. Levitt, Steven D, 1996. "How Do Senators Vote? Disentangling the Role of Voter Preferences, Party Affiliation, and Senate Ideology," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 425-441, June.
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    7. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
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    9. Banks, Jeffrey S., 1990. "A model of electoral competition with incomplete information," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 309-325, April.
    10. DeBacker, Jason, 2011. "The price of pork: The seniority trap in the U.S. House," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 63-78.
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    14. Steven Callander, 2008. "Political Motivations," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(3), pages 671-697.
    15. Gautam Gowrisankaran & Matthew F. Mitchell & Andrea Moro, 2008. "Electoral Design and Voter Welfare from the U.S. Senate: Evidence from a Dynamic Selection Model," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 11(1), pages 1-17, January.
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    18. Bronars, Stephen G & Lott, John R, Jr, 1997. "Do Campaign Donations Alter How a Politician Votes? Or, Do Donors Support Candidates Who Value the Same Things That They Do?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(2), pages 317-350, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Forand, Jean Guillaume, 2014. "Two-party competition with persistent policies," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 64-91.
    2. G. Bellettini & P. Roberti, 2016. "Politicians' coherence and government debt," Working Papers wp1087, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.

    More about this item


    Ideology; Voting; Politics;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • C61 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Optimization Techniques; Programming Models; Dynamic Analysis

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