Electoral Platforms, Implemented Policies, and Abstention

Abstract

Recent studies of American politics evidence that political polarization of both the electorate and the political elite have moved "almost in tandem for the past half century" (McCarty et al., 2003, p.2), and that party polarization has steadily increased since the 1970s. On the other hand, the empirical literature on party platforms and implemented policies has consistently found an imperfect but nonnegligible correlation between electoral platforms and governmental outcomes: while platforms tend to be polarized, policies are moderate or centrist. However, existing theoretical models of political competition are not manifestly compatible with these observations. This paper distinguishes between electoral platforms and implemented policies by incorporating a non-trivial policy-setting process. It follows that voters may care not only about the implemented policy but also about the platform they support with their vote. We find that while parties tend to polarize their positions, the risk of alienating their constituency prevents them from radicalizing. The analysis evidences that the distribution of the electorate, and not only the (expected) location of a pivotal voter, matters in determining political outcomes. Our results are consistent with the observation of polarized platforms and moderate policies, and the alienation and indifference components of abstention.