Discussion Paper Details

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Title: Fundamental Errors in the Voting Booth

Author(s): Edward L Glaeser and Giacomo AM Ponzetto

Publication Date: August 2017

Keyword(s): Fundamental attribution error and political economy

Programme Area(s): International Trade and Regional Economics, Macroeconomics and Growth and Public Economics

Abstract: Psychologists have long documented that we over-attribute people's actions to innate characteristics, rather than to luck or circumstances. Similarly, economists have found that both politicians and businessmen are rewarded for luck. In this paper, we introduce this "Fundamental Attribution Error" into two benchmark political economy models. In both models, voter irrationality can improve politicians' behavior, because voters attribute good behavior to fixed attributes that merit reelection. This upside of irrationality is countered by suboptimal leader selection, including electing leaders who emphasize objectives that are beyond their control. The error has particularly adverse consequences for institutional choice, where it generates too little demand for a free press, too much demand for dictatorship, and responding to endemic corruption by electing new supposedly honest leaders, instead of investing in institutional reform.

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Bibliographic Reference

Glaeser, E and Ponzetto, G. 2017. 'Fundamental Errors in the Voting Booth'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research.