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Electoral Competition through Issue Selection


  • We acknowledge financial support by the Generalitat de Catalunya Grant number 2009 SGR 1126, the Spanish Ministry of Education grant number ECO2009-08820, and the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics. Castanheira is an FNRS research fellow and is grateful for their financial support. We thank Rick Wilson and three anonymous referees, as well as Torun Dewan, Patrick Legros, Andrea Mattozzi, Massimo Morelli, Ken Shepsle, Eric Snowberg, and the audiences at various seminars and workshops for very helpful discussions and comments.


Politics must address multiple problems simultaneously. In an ideal world, political competition would force parties to adopt priorities that reflect the voters' true concerns. In reality, parties can run their campaigns in such a way as to manipulate voters' priorities. This phenomenon, known as priming, may allow parties to underinvest in solving the issues that they intend to mute. We develop a model of endogenous issue ownership in which two vote-seeking parties (a) invest in policy quality to increase the value of their platform and (b) choose a communication strategy to prime voters. We identify novel feedback between communication and investment. In particular, we find that stronger priming effects can constrain parties to invest more resources in all issues. We also identify the conditions under which parties prefer to focus on their “historical issues” or to engage in “issue stealing.”

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