Candidates in primary elections face a trade-off between ideological proximity to the party's base and the probability of winning the general election. I describe conditions under which an incumbent politician provokes the opposition party into nominating more extreme candidates. By moving away from the center, the incumbent can exploit the divisions in the opposition party and improve her reelection prospects, despite hurting her appeal to the median voter in the general election. I identify primaries as an understudied mechanism that drives political polarization in two-party democracies. Furthermore, the analysis fits the observation that reelection-seeking incumbents sometimes move away from the center towards the end of their first term in office. I show that party gatekeeping drives this behavior: with a richer set of candidates, the effect disappears.
Political scientists frequently interpret the results of conjoint experiments as reflective of voter preferences. In this paper we show that the target estimand of conjoint experiments, the AMCE, is not well-defined in these terms. Even with individually rational experimental subjects, unbiased estimates of the AMCE can indicate the opposite of the true preference of the majority. To show this, we characterize the social choice correspondence implied by AMCE and demonstrate its several undesirable properties. With this result we provide a method for placing sharp bounds on the proportion of experimental subjects with a strict preference for a given candidate-feature. We provide testable assumptions that help reduce the size of these bounds. Finally, we offer a structural interpretation of the AMCE and highlight that the problem we describe persists even when a model of voting is imposed.
The way information is processed by decision makers is frequently at odds with the standard theoretical framework. On many contentious topics, decision makers' beliefs often fail to converge despite exposure to a high number of signals, or still continue to polarize. Individuals have been shown to exhibit the backfire effect, holding onto their initial beliefs even more strongly when presented with evidence to the contrary. The first piece of information in a series often acts as an anchor, and thus has an excessively high weight in posteriors. Decision makers' beliefs continue to shift after repeated signals, although no learning occurs. Based on recent findings on working memory, this paper proposes a cognitively less demanding yet ultimately incorrect way to update beliefs that accounts for these cognitive biases. If a signal is informative on multiple dimensions, and if individuals can hold only a limited number of items in working memory, then the order with which beliefs are updated across different dimensions leads to different posteriors. The unifying model advanced by this paper shows that polarization is possible even under common priors and common signals, and suggests new avenues of research for a better understanding of how information is processed by individuals, as well as how persuasion occurs.
The use of social media as a tool for spreading political information is accentuated when traditional media outlets are under pressure from governments. One such case was the 2013 protests in Turkey; largely ignored by mass media, protesters took to Twitter to get their voice heard, despite threats and attempts at suppression. We analyze this interaction on social media in a global game setting. Our results show that an increase in connectedness of a country serves to bring in line the information revealed by the mainstream and the alternative media. An increase in connectedness may free the mainstream media by making their capture more costly for the incumbent, thus allowing all media outlets to share relevant information with the public. Conversely, it may also lead the government to capture the alternative media outlets as well as the mainstream media, thus preventing dissemination of information in the country completely. The relationship between press freedom (as well as voter welfare) and social media usage rates depends on the incentives faced by the incumbent, who may either increase or decrease pressure on traditional media in response. Finally, we examine a cross-country dataset to test the predictions of our model. We show that our theoretical hypotheses are corroborated by data, and are robust to various specifications and empirical methods.