Populism, the Backlash Against Ruling Politicians and the Possible Malfunctioning of Representative Democracy
University of Milan Bicocca Department of Economics, Management and Statistics Working Paper No. 417
26 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 18, 2019
The aim of this paper is to investigate the links between lack of trust in ruling politicians and the functioning of a representative democracy. Within a standard principal-agent model of democracy, we show how lack of trust by citizens as reflected by passive beliefs updating may lead to the malfunctioning of representative democracy. We highlight how de facto accountability crucially depends on out-of-equilibrium beliefs, and that this is indeed descriptive of a substantive feature of public opinion that affects the functioning of democracy. Specifically, we show that effective accountability needs more than simple retrospective voting, as it requires voters to believe in the existence of good politicians that always choose according to voters' interests, so that a deviation from bad policies can happen only because the leader is congruent. In this case, the unique equilibrium is an efficient one that maximizes voters' welfare. However, if, on the other hand, the citizens share an overall lack of trust in ruling elites, then there is another inefficient equilibrium, where even the congruent politician behaves badly because of the adverse but rational voters' behavior. This inefficient equilibrium does not depend on fake news or on distorted beliefs or, again, on voters' heterogenous preferences, since the voters' perfectly observe the quality of the policy implemented by the government, are fully rational and share the same interests. This result might contribute to explain the increasing negative perceptions on the working of democracy as due to a self-fulfilling equilibrium.
Keywords: Government Performance, Democracy, Representation, Out-of-equilibrium Beliefs
JEL Classification: Hll, D72, D78
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation