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A Theory of Policy Sabotage

Hirsch, Alexander V. and Kastellec, Jonathan P. (2019) A Theory of Policy Sabotage. . (Unpublished)

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We develop a theory of policy implementation and elections that examines the conditions under which observable policy sabotage--that is, the deliberate choice by an opposition party to block the implementation of a policy--can be an effective electoral strategy. From the perspective of theoretical models of accountability, such behavior poses a puzzle: how can observable sabotage succeed, when rational voters can update on its deployment as a strategy? In our model, a potential saboteur chooses whether to sabotage an incumbent's policy by blocking its implementation. Following this decision, a voter decides whether to retain the incumbent, who is of unknown quality, or to select a challenger. We find that the incentives for sabotage are broadly shaped by the underlying popularity of the incumbent--it is most attractive when an incumbent is moderately unpopular. If so, sabotage may decrease the probability the incumbent is re-elected, even though sabotage is observable to the voter. This occurs because sabotage prevents the voter from using policy outcomes to update her beliefs about the incumbent's type, which in some cases will lead to voter to choose the challenger. We illustrate our theory with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act since its passage in 2010.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
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Additional Information:We thank Peter Buisseret and Craig Volden for helpful comments and suggestions.
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190506-131401349
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:95248
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:06 May 2019 20:21
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 21:11

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