Single-issue Campaigns and Multidimensional Politics
Abstract: In most elections, voters care about several issues, but candidates may have to choose only a few on which to build their campaign. The information that voters will get about the politician depends on this choice, and it is therefore a strategic one. In this paper, I study a model of elections where voters care about the candidates' competences (or positions) over two issues, e.g., the economy and foreign policy, but each candidate may only credibly signal his competence or announce his position on at most one issue. Voters are assumed to get (weakly) better information if the candidates campaign on the same issue rather than on different ones. I show that the first mover will, in equilibrium, set the agenda for both himself and the opponent if campaigning on a different issue is uninformative, but otherwise the other candidate may actually be more likely to choose the other issue. The social (voters') welfare is a non-monotone function of the informativeness of different-issue campaigns, but in any case the voters are better off if candidates are free to pick an issue rather than if an issue is set by exogenous events or by voters. If the first mover is able to reconsider his choice when the follower picks a different issue, then politicians who are very competent on both issues will switch. If voters have superior information on a politician's credentials on one of the issues, that politician is more likely to campaign on another issue. If voters care about one issue more than the other, the politicians are more likely to campaign on the more important issue. If politicians are able to advertise on both issues, at a cost, then the most competent and well-rounded ones will do so. This possibility makes voters better informed and better off, but has an ambiguous effect on politicians' utility. The model and the results may help understand endogenous selection of issues in political campaigns and the dynamics of these decisions.