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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Hong Geng & Arne Robert Weiss & Irenaeus Wolff, 2010. "The limited power of voting to limit power," TWI Research Paper Series 55, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
  • Handle: RePEc:twi:respas:0055

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    1. repec:eee:jeborg:v:142:y:2017:i:c:p:348-367 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Gaudeul, Alexia & Keser, Claudia, 2017. "The social preferences of democratically elected decision makers and the conflict between wealth generation and distribution," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 327, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    3. Urs Fischbacher & Simeon Schudy, 2014. "Reciprocity and resistance to comprehensive reform," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 160(3), pages 411-428, September.
    4. Gari Walkowitz & Arne R. Weiss, 2014. ""Read my Lips!" Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Electoral Competition on Shirking and Trust," Cologne Graduate School Working Paper Series 05-07, Cologne Graduate School in Management, Economics and Social Sciences.
    5. Fehrler, Sebastian & Fischbacher, Urs & Schneider, Maik T., 2016. "Who Runs? Honesty and Self-Selection into Politics," IZA Discussion Papers 10258, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Jensen, Martin Kaae & Kozlovskaya, Maria, 2016. "A representation theorem for guilt aversion," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 148-161.

    More about this item


    Elections; Electoral campaigns; Promises; Guilt-aversion; Costs of lying; Dictator game; Social distance; Entitlement; Experiment;

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