Informative Cheap Talk in Elections

Why do office-motivated politicians sometimes espouse views that are non-congruent with their electorate’s? Can non-congruent statements convey any information about what a politician will do if elected, and if so, why would voters elect a politician who makes such statements? Furthermore, can electoral campaigns also directly affect an elected official’s behavior? We develop a model of credible “cheap talk” —costless and non-binding communication—in elections. The foundation is an endogenous voter preference for a politician who is known to be non-congruent over one whose congruence is sufficiently uncertain. This preference arises because uncertainty about an elected official’s policy preferences generates policymaking distortions due to reputation/career concerns. We show that cheap talk can alter the electorate’s beliefs about a politician’s policy preferences and thereby affect the elected official’s behavior. Informative cheap talk can increase or decrease voter welfare, with a greater scope for welfare benefits when reputation concerns are more important.

Advance access at OUP

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