Abstract

This paper presents a model of electoral competition focusing on the formation of the public agenda. An incumbent government and a challenger party in opposition compete in elections by choosing the issues that will key out their campaigns. Giving salience to an issue implies proposing an innovative policy proposal alternative to the status-quo. Parties trade off the issues with high salience in voters' concerns and those with broad consensus on some policy proposal. Each party expects a higher probability of victory if the issue it chooses becomes salient in the voters' decision. Remarkably, the issues which are considered the most important ones by a majority of votes may not be given salience during the electoral campaign. An incumbent government may survive in spite of its bad policy performance if there is no sufficiently broad consensus on a policy alternative. We illustrate the analytical potential of the model with the case of the United States presidential election in 2004.