Discussion paper

DP16737 Short-term political memory and the inevitability of polarisation

In this paper we explore the effect of short memories on political outcomes in a model in which politics is viewed as a collective learning process . We analyse a dynamic model in which voters use past observations to learn about the optimal policy and political parties are self-interested, with polarised ideal policies. Voters balance party loyalty with a desire to vote for the party whose policy is based on a better interpretation of past observations. We show that short-term memory leads to political cycles of polarisation and convergence. Historical periods of convergence lead parties to polarise, whereas periods of polarisation imply convergence of platforms. Our framework also allows us to model the strategic use of biased histories and narratives in political competition, such as the use of nostalgia.


Levy, G and R Razin (2021), ‘DP16737 Short-term political memory and the inevitability of polarisation‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16737. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16737