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Dynamic Elections and Ideological Polarization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 September 2017

Salvatore Nunnari
Bocconi University and IGIER, Via Roentgen 1, Milano, 20136, Italy. Email:
Jan Zápal
CERGE-EI, A joint workplace of Charles University and the Economics Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Politickych veznu 7,  111 21 Prague, Czech Republic IAE-CSIC and Barcelona GSE, Campus UAB, Bellaterra, Barcelona, 08193, Spain. Email:


How does political polarization affect the welfare of the electorate? We analyze this question using a framework in which two policy and office motivated parties compete in an infinite sequence of elections. We propose two novel measures to describe the degree of conflict among agents: antagonism is the disagreement between parties; extremism is the disagreement between each party and the representative voter. These two measures do not coincide when parties care about multiple issues. We show that forward-looking parties have an incentive to implement policies favored by the representative voter, in an attempt to constrain future challengers. This incentive grows as antagonism increases. On the other hand, extremism decreases the electorate’s welfare. We discuss the methodological and empirical implications for the existing measures of political actors’ ideal points and for the debate on elite polarization.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology. 

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Author’s note: A previous version of this paper circulated under the title “Dynamic Policy Competition, Ideological Polarization and the Value of Veto Rights.” We are grateful to Enriqueta Aragones, Torun Dewan, Daniel Diermeier, John Duggan, Jon Eguia, Tim Feddersen, Justin Grimmer, Massimo Morelli, Pablo Montagnes, Clara Ponsati, Juan Ortner, Howard Rosenthal, and seminar participants at IAE-CSIC, the Conference in Honor of Norman Schofield at Washington University in St Louis, the 2013 EPSA Conference in Barcelona, the CRENoS IV Workshop on Institutions, Individual Behavior and Economic Outcomes in Alghero, the 2013 APSA Annual Meeting in Chicago, the 2014 SAET Conference on Current Trends in Economics in Tokyo, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the University of Mannheim for helpful comments and interesting discussions. The suggestions by the editor and three anonymous referees are also gratefully acknowledged. Jan Zápal acknowledges financial support from the Post-Doc Research Fund of the Charles University in Prague. All remaining errors are our own.

Contributing Editor: John Patty


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