From Gridlock to Polarization

56 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2024

See all articles by Marc S. Jacob

Marc S. Jacob

Stanford University

Barton E. Lee

ETH Zürich; University of Chicago - George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State

Gabriele Gratton

UNSW Australia Business School, School of Economics

Date Written: July 25, 2023

Abstract

We propose a mechanism linking legislative gridlock to voters’ support for candidates who hold extreme policy positions. Moderate voters rationally discount extreme pol- icy proposals from co-partisans on gridlocked policy issues because on these issues policy change is unlikely. We test our mechanism in a large-scale online experiment in which we randomly vary subjects’ perceptions of gridlock and measure subjects’ support for co-partisan candidates in candidate-choice tasks. We verify that greater perception of gridlock increases moderate subjects’ propensity to vote for extreme co- partisan candidates. We show that our experimental evidence is consistent with our mechanism and that other mechanisms are less likely to underlie our main result. Our theory offers a causal connection from gridlock to elite polarization that may inform further empirical work and suggests a novel tradeoff between elite polarization and policy stability in constitutional design.

Suggested Citation

Jacob, Marc and Lee, Barton E. and Gratton, Gabriele, From Gridlock to Polarization (July 25, 2023). UNSW Economics Working Paper 2023-11, George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy & the State Working Paper No. 341, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4521276 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4521276

Marc Jacob

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Barton E. Lee

ETH Zürich ( email )

Zürichbergstrasse 18
8092 Zurich, CH-1015
Switzerland

University of Chicago - George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State

Walker Hall
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Gabriele Gratton (Contact Author)

UNSW Australia Business School, School of Economics ( email )

High Street
Sydney, NSW 2052
Australia

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