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Intra-Party Disagreement and Inter-Party Polarization

Room 111, University House
Wednesday 20th January 2016 (16:00-17:30)
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This event is part of the Dept of Economics External Speaker Series and will be facilitated by the Accountability and Governance Research Cluster.

Speaker: James Snyder

Speaker biography

Professor Snyder's primary research and teaching interests are in American politics, with a focus on political representation.  He has written on a variety of topics, including elections, campaign finance, legislative behavior and institutions, interest groups, direct democracy, the media, and corruption.  He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His articles have appeared in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, the American Economic Review, the Journal of Political Economy, Econometrica, and many other other journals and edited volumes.  He is co-author of The End of Inequality: One Person, One Vote and the Transformation of American Politics.  Professor Snyder taught for six years in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago, and for eighteen years in the Departments of Political Science and Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


We develop a theory of legislative competition in which voters care about national party positions and candidates' quality characteristics when deciding whom to vote for.  National party positions, in turn, are determined by the parties' median legislators, respectively.  This leads to the following predictions: (i) as long as election outcomes are predictable enough (from the candidates' point of view), the only stable equilibria exhibit policy divergence between the parties; (ii) asymmetries in the distribution of district medians can produce situations with a ``permanent'' majority party that is relatively centrist and a ``permanent'' minority party that is relatively extremist; (iii) gerrymandering can be used to produce the conditions for (ii) to occur; (iv) as voters place more weight on politicians' ``valence'' characteristics---e.g., efficiency in steering government funds to the district or in doing casework, or simply honesty---polarization between the parties decreases; and (v) as the degree of uncertainty about election outcomes increases, polarization between the parties decreases.  We find empirical support for several of these hypothesis using data on U.S. state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.

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