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Electoral Imbalances and their Consequences

Prato, Carlo and Wolton, Stephane (2014): Electoral Imbalances and their Consequences.

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Abstract

This paper studies the consequences for the electoral process of reputational and partisan imbalance; that is, asymmetries in voters' evaluations of candidates' quality (for example, due to incumbency) and of party labels (for example, due to ideology). Our theory is predicated on the notion that voters are ``rationally ignorant'' as they face cognitive constraints on their ability to acquire and process political information. Our model rationalizes key empirical regularities identified in the literature: the strong effect of incumbency on electoral outcomes, the existence of an incumbency spending advantage, as well as the moderate electoral impact of partisan redistricting. We explain why current methods used to identify the sources of the incumbency advantage are likely to produce biased estimates, and suggest ways to resolve this issue. We also highlight how campaign finance reforms should be precisely tailored to the type and level of imbalance they are meant to address.

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