DP7724 Ideologues: Explaining Partisanship and Persistence in Politics (and Elsewhere)

Author(s): Benno Buehler, Anke Kessler
Publication Date: March 2010
Keyword(s): Ideology, Partisanship, Polarization, Policy Persistence, Political Competition
JEL(s): H11, N40
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=7724

This paper provides an explanation for why political leaders may want to adopt ideological positions and maintain them over time even in the face of conflicting evidence. We study a dynamic framework in which politicians are better informed than the voting public about an underlying state of nature that determines the desirability of a given policy measure. The issue itself is non-partisan (everybody has the same policy preferences) but voters attach ideological labels to both candidates and available policy alternatives. We show that both sides may be caught in an ideology trap: because voters expect the perceived ideology of office holders to determine their political actions, politicians are tempted to act according to their perceived ideology, resulting in political failure.