Expressive Politics: A Model of Electoral Competition with Animus and Cognitive Dissonance

We study a model of electoral competition that incorporates both the instrumental and expressive benefits of candidate position taking. In the model, voters care about standard policy concerns as well as two expressive considerations: the psychological costs of deviating from one’s own preferred policy and the psychological benefits of antagonizing an out-group. Whereas concerns about cognitive dissonance consistently temper candidate extremism, the effects of animus are non-monotonic—exacerbating policy divisions when baseline levels are low, and triggering one candidate’s capitulation (as distinct from both candidates’ moderation) when they are high. We further show that candidates become more polarized when a government routinely fails to translate policies into law; and that when communication channels are siloed, impediments to lawmaking also encourage candidates to stoke inter-group animosities. The findings have broad implications for our understandings of political polarization, partisan sorting and representation, fragmented media markets, and separation of powers.
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