DP12407 A Model of Focusing in Political Choice

Author(s): Salvatore Nunnari, Jan Zapal
Publication Date: October 2017
Date Revised: March 2020
Keyword(s):
JEL(s): D30, D72, D78
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=12407

This paper develops a model of voters' and politicians' behavior based on the notion that voters focus disproportionately on and, hence, overweigh certain attributes of policies. We assume that policies have two attributes---resources devoted to two distinct issues (e.g., defense and education)---and that voters focus more on the attribute in which their options differ more. First, we consider exogenous policies and show that focusing polarizes the electorate. Second, we consider the endogenous supply of policies by politicians running for office and show that focusing leads to inefficiencies: voters that are more focused are more influential; distorted attention empowers social groups that are larger and more sensitive to changes on either issue; resources are channelled towards divisive issues. Finally, we show that augmenting classical models of electoral competition with focusing can contribute to explain puzzling stylized facts such as the inverse correlation between income inequality and redistribution.