DP18338 The Shift to Commitment Politics and Populism: Theory and Evidence
The decline in voters' trust in government and the rise of populism are two concerning features of contemporary politics. In this paper, we present a model of commitment politics that elucidates the interplay between distrust and populism. Candidates supply policy commitments to mitigate voters' distrust in government, shrinking politicians' levels of discretion typical of representative democracies. Alongside commitments, candidates rationally choose the main strategies associated with populism, namely anti-elite and pro-people rhetoric. We match novel data on voters' distrust towards the U.S. federal government with the Twitter activity of more than 2,000 candidates over five congressional elections and show that distrust
is strongly associated with candidates' supply of commitments and populist rhetoric, which are also effective strategies at mobilizing distrustful voters. We also show theoretically that the shift to commitment politics determines greater aversion to checks and balances, and hence even illiberal populism can emerge.