hero working papers

Election and Divisiveness: Theory and Evidence

Number: 542
Year: 2015
Author(s): Elliott Ash, Massimo Morelli, Richard Van Weelden
We analyze the effort allocation choices of incumbent politicians when voters are uncertain about politician preferences. There is a pervasive incentive to "posture" by overproviding 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 either mitigate or re-enforce the distortions depending on the strength of politicians' office motivation and the capacity for the holder of the office in question to effect change. When re-election concerns are paramount transparency about effort choices can be bad for both incentivizing politicians to exert effort on socially efficient tasks and for allowing voters to select congruent politicians. We take our theoretical results to the data with an empirical analysis o f how U.S. Congressmen allocate time across issues. Consistent with the theory, we find evidence of political posturing due to elections (among U.S. Senators) and due to higher transparency (among U.S. House Members).

Keywords: Posturing, Reputation, Transparency, Effort Allocation, Multi-task
JEL codes: D72, D78, D82