Rational parties and retrospective voters

Book Section

Many elections specialists take seriously V.O. Key's hypothesis (1966) that much voting is retrospective: citizens reward good performance by becoming more likely to vote for the incumbent and punish bad performance by becoming less likely. Earlier (Bendor et al., 2005) we formalized Key's verbal theory. Our model shows that people endogenously develop partisan voting tendencies, even if they lack explicit ideologies. However, that paper depicts parties as passive payoff-generating mechanisms. Here we make parties active, rational players with conventional goals: they either are pure office-seekers or have the usual mix of goals (office and policy preferences). The parties' optimal strategies reflect the incentives produced by retrospective voting. These incentives are powerful: for a wide range of parameter values they induce parties to select policies that differ not only from the median of the distribution of voter ideal points, but also from the mean. Further, by analyzing the complex dynamics of voter adaptation and party response, we can derive and characterize the endogenous incumbency advantage enjoyed by the party in power. We establish these properties both analytically and computationally. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Bendor, J; Kumar, S; Siegel, DA

Published Date

  • January 1, 2007

Volume / Issue

  • 17 /

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 28

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780444531377

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/S1571-0386(06)17001-5

Citation Source

  • Scopus