Incumbents' Performance and Political Polarization

33 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2016

See all articles by Marina Dodlova

Marina Dodlova

University of Passau; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Galina Zudenkova

University of Mannheim

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 27, 2016


This paper studies the relationship between incumbents’ performance and political polarization, both with theory and data. The theory is based on a spatial model of political competition in which the voters use the incumbent’s performance in office to update their beliefs about his competence. A better performance leads to the incumbent’s electoral advantage and so allows him to announce a more extreme platform closer to his bliss point. Therefore, conditioned on reelection, a better incumbent’s performance leads to higher political polarization. We use the data on the incumbents’ performance in natural disaster relief and the ideological positions they take in the U.S. House of representatives in 1953-2010. The empirical evidence shows that a better performance in post-disaster recovery is associated with more extreme ideological positions of the corresponding incumbents. These and other empirical results are in line with the model predictions.

Keywords: political polarization, incumbents’ performance, spatial competition, natural disasters

JEL Classification: D720, H840, Q540

Suggested Citation

Dodlova, Marina and Zudenkova, Galina, Incumbents' Performance and Political Polarization (January 27, 2016). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 5728, Available at SSRN:

Marina Dodlova (Contact Author)

University of Passau ( email )

Innstrasse 27
Passau, 94032

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute) ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679

Galina Zudenkova

University of Mannheim ( email )

Universitaetsbibliothek Mannheim
Mannheim, 68131

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