Matching Pennies on the Campaign Trail: An Empirical Study of Senate Elections and Media Coverage
55 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2015 Last revised: 20 Jun 2015
Date Written: April 3, 2015
We study empirically the strategic interaction between the media and candidates in a bipartisan election. We suggest that the relationship between the media and candidates in a campaign is shaped by both a dimension of alignment of preferences, and a dimension of misalignment, which leads to a strategic environment resembling a matching pennies game. As a result, making inferences about politicians’ ideologies or policy stances based on media reports is not possible without taking explicit account of how each player’s behavior affects the other. Based on this observation we develop a simple structural model of bipartisan races where the media makes reports about the candidates, and candidates make decisions along the campaign trail regarding the type of constituencies to target with their statements and speeches. We show how data on media reports, electoral results, and poll results, together with the behavioral implications of the model, can be used to estimate its structural parameters. We implement this methodology on US Senatorial races for the period 1980-2012. These parameters are useful, among other things, to predict the evolution of races during the campaign trail, and to understand the forces shaping candidates speech during campaigns. Moreover, our results suggest a novel interpretation for how the media constrains politicians’ behavior in an democracy.
Keywords: political campaigns, senate elections, media, campaign speeches
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