The Voters’ Curses: Why We Need Goldilocks Voters

CARLO PRATO AND STEPHANE WOLTON
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE (2015). ADVANCED ONLINE PUBLICATION. DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12223

Abstract: Scholars have long deplored voters’ lack of interest in politics and argued in favor of greater political engagement. We present a formal theory of elections where successful communication of campaign messages requires both effort by candidates and attention from voters. Voters’ interest in politics affects their attention and impacts the effectiveness of the electoral process as a screening and disciplining device. In line with existing theories, there exists a curse of the uninterested voter: When voters have little interest in politics, the electoral process performs poorly, and voters’ attention to politics is low. Surprisingly, we uncover a curse of the interested voter, by which the same happens when voters have a strong interest in politics. Our results highlight the importance of distinguishing between voters’ interest and attention, two notions often conflated in empirical studies. Moreover, policy interventions aimed at subsidizing the cost of acquiring political information can have unintended consequences.