“Pandora’s Ballot Box: Electoral Politics of Referendums,” Peter Buisseret, Harvard University
AMERICAN & COMPARATIVE POLITICAL BEHAVIOR WORKSHOP
Abstract: Two parties compete in an election, and one of the parties holds an initial valence advantage. The parties diverge on a traditional ideological issue, but are also internally divided on a second issue dimension. We study how the incumbent party employs direct democracy on the second issue to improve its election prospects. When parties are polarized on the traditional issue, a popular party uses a referendum as an offensive tactic to divide its opponent’s core supporters, while an unpopular party uses a referendum to take the issue off the table. When parties are not very polarized on the traditional issue, an unpopular party gambles on a referendum to divide its opponent’s base. By contrast, a popular party calls a referendum in the hopes of resolving the second issue. This shifts the focus of the election away from policy conflicts and instead on valence, where the party expects an advantage.
Peter Buisseret is an Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University. He works in the fields of political economy and formal theory. His work has been published in the American Political Science Review, the American Economic Review, and the American Journal of Political Science. He previously held faculty positions at the University of Chicago (Harris School) and the University of Warwick (Economics). He received his PhD in Politics from Princeton University in 2015.
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