Research explains success of extremist politicians

March 3, 2016

Today's longer campaign cycles, filled with numerous televised debates and constant news reporting and social media coverage, are causing the rise of extremist politicians, according to a new study from the University of Miami School of Business Administration, just published in the American Economic Journal: Economics. The research, which utilized game theory, finds that longer campaigns, which offer voters more information on the candidates via 24-hour news coverage and social media, turn voters' attention more toward a candidate's character - such as trustworthiness and how he or she delivers speeches and exchanges debate barbs - and away from his or her stance on policy. With this in mind, politicians now have less incentive to moderate their messages, a tactic often used in order to bring swing voters to ballot boxes as they tend to vote for more moderate candidates.

"Our research shows real impact associated with longer, more informative campaigns, and perhaps a reason why we are seeing candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders doing so well within their parties this late in the game," said Raphael Boleslavsky, assistant professor of economics at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, who conducted the study along with Christopher Cotton of Queens University. "Candidates base their platforms on how to capture the majority of voters relative to their opponent so our research suggests that extremism is likely something we will see more as campaign cycles continue to get longer and longer."

According to the researchers, a shorter campaign cycle with less time for media saturation might allow voters to experience a greater balance of a candidate's policy positions and character. This would lead to better-informed voters because of more attention on policy issues. Further, increasing the number of debates in an election cycle, according to the study, decreases the incentive for politicians to run on moderate platforms.

Methodology:

For this study, the authors developed a mathematical model of an election in which parties nominate candidates with policy preferences ahead of a campaign that produces information about their overall characteristics independent of policy. The mathematical model used the tools of , which allowed researchers to describe strategic situations and understand strategic incentives in a mathematically rigorous way. They then solved the equations generated by the model, resulting in a robust prediction about the level of political extremism that political parties select, and how this level of extremism changes with the length of the political campaign.

"Over the next eight months our country will likely judge our next president, not only on his or her policy proposals, but also on his or her television performance in debates and speeches, and our perception of his or her character. These other dimensions may be relevant to the candidate's capability to lead, but unfortunately, there is a link between our ability to learn about these dimensions and candidates ideological extremism. Because we started thinking about our next leader so early, the moderate policies many voters want may not be on the table."

Explore further: Swing voters hold more sway over candidates on economic issues

More information: Raphael Boleslavsky et al. Information and Extremism in Elections , American Economic Journal: Microeconomics (2015). DOI: 10.1257/mic.20130006

Related Stories

Voters' choices based on performance, not policy

October 3, 2012

Voters in U.S. presidential races make choices based on a candidate's performance rather than on his or her policy positions—even when those stances run counter to the voters' own, according to a new book by a University ...

Recommended for you

Study finds links between swearing and honesty

January 16, 2017

It's long been associated with anger and coarseness but profanity can have another, more positive connotation. Psychologists have learned that people who frequently curse are being more honest. Writing in the journal Social ...

13 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TulsaMikel
3.5 / 5 (6) Mar 03, 2016
To summarize: The longer the campaign the better you know your candidate. The shorter the campaign the easier a candidate can pretend to be what you want.
Manfred Particleboard
4.3 / 5 (7) Mar 03, 2016
Alternatively; politics is becoming more a cult of personality rather than a platform of ideas.
Vote for Pedro!!
KBK
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2016
The west has not seen a real candidate for president, prime minister minister, or what not, (whatever the given country has named their top office) probably 50 years, minimum.

Almost none of these people have ever been their 'own person', they've been controlled by clandestine groups who run behind the scenes, for a very long time.

If they try to be their own person, an actual person, a functional person in their given office.... they get assassinated, heart attacked, or 'cancered out'..or, destroyed via scandals.

This is the kind of basic truth that a mainstream article like this one can never cover.

But it will seem like it talks sense, and makes some sort of real and sensible comment(ary)...... which only works on those who sleep their way through life.

The article is designed to help those people remain asleep and unaware of the deeper realities of their hidden slavery with the 'appearance of freedom' sugar on top.

Essentially, that the subject is drivel.
Whydening Gyre
4.6 / 5 (9) Mar 03, 2016
They get popular because of repetitive sound bites and mini-memes.
"baffling with bullshit".
Knowing that pressing emotional buttons get's more reaction that logical ones.
bertibus
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2016
@KBK You're saying that Margaret Thatcher was a puppet?
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2016
One need not look any further than OBAMA! To confirm extremist politicians. Who'da thunk 30-40 years ago we'd be electing Marxist communists to be our POTUS. Frank Marshall Davis would be awful proud on his son!
Maggnus
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2016
The west has not seen a real candidate for president, prime minister minister, or what not, (whatever the given country has named their top office) probably 50 years, minimum.

Almost none of these people have ever been their 'own person', they've been controlled by clandestine groups who run behind the scenes, for a very long time.

If they try to be their own person, an actual person, a functional person in their given office.... they get assassinated, heart attacked, or 'cancered out'..or, destroyed via scandals.

This is the kind of basic truth that a mainstream article like this one can never cover.

The only thing missing from this ode to conspiracy ideology is a reference to the lizard people from Zeta Reticula.
forumid001
not rated yet Mar 04, 2016
An effective model should first be able to explain the past elections before it is used to say something about the on-going one. Over the past centuries, the extremism never won a single presidency of usa. Therefore, this 'research' is nonsense. A much more sensible research topic is: "Why has extremism never won in most democratic countries?" Although tons of books and papers have been published on it, a more precise and more scientific approach would be worthwhile.
jeffensley
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2016
This doesn't bode well for us. How do we bring attention to sensible people, sensible idea, and calm, rational conversations? This is basically an exploitation of what I would deem "weakness" in human nature.
antigoracle
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2016
They missed the most obvious explanation; Americans are stupid.
koitsu
3 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2016
From a registered Independent's perspective, if you look at recent successful platforms (Obama, McCain, Romney) compared to other candidates since, let's say Carter or Reagan, one could argue that the campaign policies were not especially "extreme."

But I'm just looking at policy in isolation, which most people (not limited to Americans) don't do. So totally agree with Manny about cult of personality.

PS---Maybe we could argue that the ACA is extreme, but then the question is whether it's the result of extreme politicians or a reaction to extreme market conditions (e.g. the state of healthcare in the US, insurance companies and pharma, etc.). Just offering a comment for perspective, but I don't expect it to get through to those who are highly emotional. Regards!
kochevnik
not rated yet Mar 05, 2016
The only thing missing from this ode to conspiracy ideology is a reference to the lizard people from Zeta Reticula.
Indeed mafias don't exist. Everyone is a cowboy
compose
Mar 05, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.