Electoral Imbalances and Their Consequences

31 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2014 Last revised: 16 Jan 2017

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: July 15, 2016

Abstract

It is widely believed that competitive elections are required for good democratic performance. Many races, however, see little electoral competition, due to asymmetries in voters' evaluation of candidates' quality (due for example to incumbency) and party labels (due for example to ideology). We study the consequences of both types of imbalances in a unified theoretical framework building on the notion that voters are rationally ignorant and need to pay costly attention to learn candidates' characteristics. Our paper rationalizes key empirical regularities such as the existence of large incumbency spending and electoral advantages or the heterogeneous effect of incumbency. Further, we highlight that properly accounting for voter attention is critical to interpret empirical estimates of key determinants of electoral success, the sources of the incumbency advantage, and the causal effect of incumbency status. We also show that less competitive elections can actually benefit voters.

Keywords: Elections, Attention, Imbalance, Reputation, Incumbency Advantage, Partisanship

JEL Classification: D72, D78, D83

Suggested Citation

Prato, Carlo and Wolton, Stephane, Electoral Imbalances and Their Consequences (July 15, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2538690 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2538690

Carlo Prato (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

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

Stephane Wolton

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

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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