Electoral Imbalances and Their Consequences
31 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2014 Last revised: 16 Jan 2017
Date Written: July 15, 2016
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: Suggested Citation