NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Elections and Divisiveness: Theory and Evidence

Elliott Ash, Massimo Morelli, Richard Van Weelden

NBER Working Paper No. 21422
Issued in July 2015
NBER Program(s):Public Economics, Political Economy

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21422

Published: Elliott Ash & Massimo Morelli & Richard Van Weelden, 2017. "Elections and Divisiveness: Theory and Evidence," The Journal of Politics, vol 79(4), pages 1268-1285.

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