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The Voters' Curses: The Upsides and Downsides of Political Engagement

Prato, Carlo and Wolton, Stephane (2014): The Voters' Curses: The Upsides and Downsides of Political Engagement.

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Abstract

Scholars have long deplored voters' lack of interest in politics and argue greater political engagement would improve the performance of democracy. We consider a model of elections where successful communication of political messages during campaigns requires efforts by politicians and a representative voter. The voter's incentive to pay attention to politics affects the effectiveness of the electoral process as screening and disciplining device. The performance of the electoral process and the voter's level of political activity are low when the voter cares little about politics--this is the curse of the apathetic voter--, or cares a lot about politics--this is the curse of the engaged voter. Consequently, an engaged voter is not always an active voter and fostering political engagement (e.g., by lowering the cost of political information or facilitating policy changes) might have negative consequences on voter's attention to politics and welfare.

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