The Voters' Curses: Why We Need Goldilocks Voters

American Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming

30 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2014 Last revised: 15 Jun 2018

See all articles by Carlo Prato

Carlo Prato

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Stephane Wolton

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government

Date Written: February 4, 2015

Abstract

Scholars have long deplored voters' lack of interest in politics and argued in favor of greater political engagement. We present a formal theory of elections where successful communication of campaign messages requires both effort by candidates and attention from voters. Voters' interest in politics affects their attention, and impacts the effectiveness of the electoral process as a screening and disciplining device. In line with existing theories, there exists a curse of the uninterested voter: When voters have little interest in politics, the electoral process performs poorly, and voters' attention to politics is low. Surprisingly, we uncover a curse of the interested voter, by which the same happens when voters have a strong interest in politics. Our results highlight the importance of distinguishing between voters' interest and attention, two notions often conflated in empirical studies. Moreover, policy interventions aimed at subsidizing the cost of acquiring political information can have unintended consequences.

Keywords: Engagement, Attention, Interest, Accountability, Democratic Responsiveness

JEL Classification: D72, D78, D83

Suggested Citation

Prato, Carlo and Wolton, Stephane, The Voters' Curses: Why We Need Goldilocks Voters (February 4, 2015). American Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2391339 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2391339

Carlo Prato

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Stephane Wolton (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) - Department of Government ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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