The Politics of Ambiguity
NBER Working Paper No. 2468
Politicians have generally two motives: they wish to hold office as long as possible and wish to implement their preferred policies. Thus they face a trade-off between the policies which maximize their choices of reelection and their most preferred policies (or the policies most preferred by the constituency which they represent). This paper analyzes this trade-off in a dynamic electoral model in which the voters are not fully informed about the preferences of the incumbent. First, we show that in general there is incomplete policy convergence: the incumbent follows a policy which is intermediate between the other party ideal policy and his own ideal policy. Second, we show that under some circumstances, the incumbent has an incentive to choose procedures which make it more difficult for voters to pinpoint his preferences with absolute precision. Thus, politicians may prefer to be ambiguous and "hide", at least up to a certain extent, their true preferences. This result holds for a wide range of parameter values and, in some range, even if voters are risk averse.
Published: Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 105, no. 4 (1990): 829-850.