Flip-flopping and Electoral Concerns

Giovanni Andreottola (Yale University)

Abstract: Politicians who change their mind on a policy issue are often confronted with the accusation of being flip-floppers. However, a changing environment sometimes makes policy revisions necessary. The present analysis suggests that flip-flopping on a policy issue is detrimental to a politician’s reputation because it sends a bad signal on the accuracy of his information. As a result, electorally concerned politicians can have the incentive to stick to their initial policy choice, despite it being inefficient, in order to avoid the stigma of flip-flopping. This distorted behaviour is not only damaging in terms of policy welfare, but also in terms of a worse selection of competent politicians through elections. I also discuss benefits and costs of several possible ways to address the unwillingness of politicians to respond to information: these include a single-term limit rule, the effect of media varying the transparency of actions and consequences as well as delegation of one of the actions to an independent agent.

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