Candidate Entry and Political Polarization: An Experimental Study
by Jens Großer, Florida State University and Thomas R. Palfrey, California Institute of Technology
Empirical studies show that political elites and parties have more extreme policy preferences than the citizens they represent, which yields economic inefficiencies and dissatisfaction among citizens. The authors show theoretically and experimentally that the political polarization phenomenon can be explained by uncertainty of citizens about candidates’ policy intentions. The laboratory results support their comparative statics predictions on polarization. In particular, relative to independent candidates, political parties are even more polarized but yield more efficient elections since the majority party is more likely to win due to vote coordination of its supporters. Other predictions are in line with casual observation of historical trends in U.S. politics. For example, the snowballing costs of mounting a successful campaign for national office in the past decades (e.g. due to greater costs of television advertisement and the relaxation of contribution limitations) should increase polarization, which has indeed been observed. Finally, the number of senators and representatives in the U.S. Congress (100 and 435, respectively) has been constant since 1963, while at the same time the U.S. population has grown by about eighty percent since 1960. The model predicts that an increase in the electorate size increases polarization.
Read the full article.