Jan Klingelhöfer - Accountability and Incumbency Advantage

Date and Time: December 20th, 2018, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Room: Meeting Room, 1st floor, Dongliuzhai (Old Campus)

 

Abstract

Incumbency advantage is the difference in the probabilities of remaining in versus losing office for an incumbents party. I show that incumbency advantage increases accountability of political parties. To do so, I develop a repeated probabilistic voting model with two parties that alternate in office. Parts of the electorate are forward-looking and vote according to their (probabilistic) party preferences, and parts of the electorate consider the amount of rent-seeking by the incumbent party when they make their voting decision between two parties. The model allows for two different sources of incumbency advantage. Preference-driven incumbency advantage occurs if the random distribution of party preferences is biased in favor of the incumbent party. Accountability driven incumbency advantage is the result of the strategic interaction between retrospective voters who want to limit rent-seeking activities and the parties. It is always intertwined with electoral punishment, the loss in likelihood of an election victory when an incumbent party does engage in rent-seeking above a threshold. I show that it possible to distinguish the effects of incumbency advantage and electoral punishment on the minimum level of rent-seeking that is sustainable in equilibrium. While there is no accountability without the presence of backward-looking voters and electoral punishment, additional external incumbency advantage leads to lower rents and increasing accountability. The larger the incumbency advantage, the more important it is for a party to win the next election. Consequently, the incumbent party is willing to give up more rent-seeking in return for a higher likelihood of being reelected. The positive effect of incumbency advantage on accountability somewhat counterintuitive because it is widely believed that parties and politicians are less likely to be voted out of office are less accountable. However, this belief would only be justified if only cases with a combination of large incumbency advantage and low degrees of electoral punishment were conceivable. While this is a typical combination for countries with some degree of electoral fraud and manipulation, for example Russia under Putin, it is unlikely to occur in functioning mature democracies. In addition to its substantive contribution, this paper also provides a straightforward model of probabilistic voting that can be applied to different settings in which different groups of voters have random turnouts.


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