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Playing with fire or playing it safe? Formal models of gambling in elections

Izzo, Federica (2019) Playing with fire or playing it safe? Formal models of gambling in elections. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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When voters face uncertainty over their optimal choice, the outcome of today’s policy making influences their future beliefs. This generates incentives for politicians to engage in information control. In this dissertation, I formally analyze how these incentives influence the conflict both within and between political parties. My first paper begins with the observation that political leaders are often publicly attacked by their own ideological allies. Yet, evidence indicates that this form dissent is electorally costly, thus harming both the leader and his allies. Why, then, does it emerge in the first place? I address this puzzle within a model in which voters face uncertainty about their ideal policy and learn via experience. In particular, I propose a new framework to think about policy experimentation, whereby the amount of learning depends on the location of the implemented policy on the left-right spectrum. I show that, within this setting, dissent emerges precisely because it is electorally costly. By hurting the incumbent’s electoral chances, dissent alters his incentives to adopt more or less informative (and therefore extreme) policies. This creates a potential trade-o for the incumbent’s allies which, under some conditions, is resolved in favour of dissent. This policy experimentation framework can be adapted to study several phenomena. In my second paper, I apply it to investigate whether ideological parties may have strategic incentives to lose elections. Parties often take extreme positions even if this means losing for sure. Extant explanations rely on expressive motivations. I instead show that a party whose ideological stance is ex-ante unpopular faces a trade-o between winning the upcoming election and changing voters’ future preferences. Under some conditions, the party chooses to lose today to win big tomorrow. Finally, my third paper focuses on electoral selection, addressing a crucial question: do the right candidates for oce choose to run at the right time? In the model, voters learn about oce holders’ competence by observing governance outcomes. Because competence matters most in times of crisis, this is also when outcomes reveal most information. I show that electoral accountability has the perverse consequence of discouraging good candidates from running in times of crisis, that is, precisely when voters would need them the most.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Federica Izzo
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Dewan, Torun and Wolton, Stephane

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