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Elections and Divisiveness: Theory and Evidence

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  • Elliott Ash
  • Massimo Morelli
  • Richard Van Weelden

Abstract

This paper analyzes the effort allocation choices of incumbent politicians when voters are uncertain about politician preferences. There is a pervasive incentive to "posture" by over-providing effort to pursue divisive policies, even if all voters would strictly prefer to have a consensus policy implemented. As such, the desire of politicians to convince voters that their preferences are aligned with the majority of the electorate can lead them to choose strictly pareto dominated effort allocations. Transparency over the politicians' effort choices can re-enforce the distortions, and for some parameters can be bad both for incentivizing politicians to focus on socially efficient tasks and for allowing voters to select congruent politicians. We take our theoretical results to the data with an empirical analysis of how Members of the U.S. Congress allocate time across issues in their floor speeches. Consistent with the theory, we find evidence of political posturing due to elections among U.S. Senators. We also demonstrate empirically that, among U.S. House Members, increased transparency can lead to more divisive speech.

Suggested Citation

  • Elliott Ash & Massimo Morelli & Richard Van Weelden, 2015. "Elections and Divisiveness: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 21422, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21422
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Josep Colomer & Humberto Llavador, 2012. "An agenda-setting model of electoral competition," SERIEs: Journal of the Spanish Economic Association, Springer;Spanish Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 73-93, March.
    2. Enriqueta Aragonès & Micael Castanheira & Marco Giani, 2015. "Electoral Competition through Issue Selection," American Journal of Political Science, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 59(1), pages 71-90, January.
    3. Laurent Bouton & Paola Conconi & Francisco Pino & Maurizio Zanardi, 2013. "Guns and Votes," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2013-39, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
      • Bouton, Laurent & Conconi, Paola & Pino, Francisco & Zanardi, Maurizio, 2013. "Guns and Votes," CEPR Discussion Papers 9726, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
      • Laurent Bouton & Paola Conconi & Francisco Pino & Maurizio Zanardi, 2013. "Guns and votes," Working Papers 43819146, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
      • Laurent Bouton & Paola Conconi & Francisco Pino & Maurizio Zanardi, 2014. "Guns and Votes," NBER Working Papers 20253, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Conconi, Paola & Facchini, Giovanni & Zanardi, Maurizio, 2014. "Policymakers' horizon and trade reforms: The protectionist effect of elections," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(1), pages 102-118.
    5. Fox, Justin & Stephenson, Matthew C., 2011. "Judicial Review as a Response to Political Posturing," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 105(2), pages 397-414, May.
    6. John A. List & Daniel M. Sturm, 2006. "How Elections Matter: Theory and Evidence from Environmental Policy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(4), pages 1249-1281.
    7. Marina Azzimonti-Renzo, 2014. "Partisan conflict," Working Papers 14-19, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
    8. Vlaicu, Razvan & Whalley, Alexander, 2016. "Hierarchical accountability in government," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 85-99.
    9. Georgy Egorov & Konstantin Sonin, 2013. "A Political Theory of Populism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(2), pages 771-805.
    10. Fox, Justin & Van Weelden, Richard, 2012. "Costly transparency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(1), pages 142-150.
    11. Massimo Morelli & Richard Van Weelden, 2013. "Ideology and information in policymaking," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 25(3), pages 412-439, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Azzimonti, Marina, 2018. "Partisan conflict and private investment," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 114-131.
    2. Jerch, Rhiannon & Kahn, Matthew E. & Li, Shanjun, 2017. "The efficiency of local government: The role of privatization and public sector unions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 154(C), pages 95-121.
    3. Osório, António (António Miguel), 2018. "Conflict and Competition over Multi-Issues," Working Papers 2072/306550, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Department of Economics.
    4. Gabriele Gratton & Luigi Guiso & Claudio Michelacci & Massimo Morelli, 2017. "From Weber to Kafka: Political Instability and the Rise of an Inefficient Bureaucracy," EIEF Working Papers Series 1708, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised May 2017.
    5. Elliott Ash & W. Bentley MacLeod, 2016. "Selection and Incentive Effects of Elections: Evidence from State Supreme Courts," NBER Working Papers 22071, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Georgy Egorov, 2015. "Single-Issue Campaigns and Multidimensional Politics," NBER Working Papers 21265, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Gabriele Gratton & Luigi Guiso & Claudio Michelacci & Massimo Morelli, 2015. "From Weber to Kafka: Political Activism and the Emergence of an Inefficient Bureaucracy," Working Papers 560, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
    8. Fox, Justin & Van Weelden, Richard, 2015. "Hoping for the best, unprepared for the worst," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 59-65.

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    JEL classification:

    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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