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The limited power of voting to limit power

  • Hong Geng
  • Arne Robert Weiss
  • Irenaeus Wolff

In this paper, we experimentally approach the question of which aspects of a voting procedure are able to restrict elected candidates' willingness to use their power in an opportunistic way. For this purpose, we rule out reelection concerns and analyse whether the presence of a vote by itself matters for the exercise of power. We compare two kinds of electoral campaigns: self-descriptions of personality and promises regarding prospective in-office behaviour. We find that social approval as conveyed by a vote does not suffice to induce pro-social choices by elected candidates. On the other hand, when campaigns are promise-based, elected candidates transfer more to their recipients than candidates selected by a random draw even though promises do not differ. This refutes explanations based on a taste for consistency or costs of lying. In contrast, the fact that the correlation between dictators' promises and their beliefs on voter expectations is considerably strengthened in the presence of a vote offers support to a guilt-aversion hypothesis. However, this support is qualified by the correlation between dicators' second-order beliefs and their choices, which is weaker than predicted. Overall, our results suggest the power of voting to limit the self-oriented exertion of power is limited and context-specific.

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Paper provided by Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universit�t Konstanz in its series TWI Research Paper Series with number 55.

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Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:twi:respas:0055
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