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A Political Theory of Populism

  • Daron Acemoglu
  • Georgy Egorov
  • Konstantin Sonin

When voters fear that politicians may have a right-wing bias or that they may be influenced or corrupted by the rich elite, signals of true left-wing conviction are valuable. As a consequence, even a moderate politician seeking reelection chooses "populist' policies - i.e., policies to the left of the median voter - as a way of signaling that he is not from the right. Truly right-wing politicians respond by choosing more moderate, or even left-of-center policies. This populist bias of policy is greater when the value of remaining in office is higher for the politician; when there is greater polarization between the policy preferences of the median voter and right-wing politicians; when politicians are indeed more likely to have a hidden right-wing agenda; when there is an intermediate amount of noise in the information that voters receive; when politicians are more forward-looking; and when there is greater uncertainty about the type of the incumbent. We show that similar results apply when some politicians can be corrupted or influenced through other non-electoral means by the rich elite. We also show that 'soft term limits' may exacerbate, rather than reduce, the populist bias of policies.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17306.

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Date of creation: Aug 2011
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Publication status: published as Georgy Egorov & Konstantin Sonin, 2013. "A Political Theory of Populism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(2), pages 771-805.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17306
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