Last minute policies and the incumbency advantage

Elena Manzoni, Stefan P. Penczynski

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This paper models a purely informational mechanism behind the incumbency advantage. In a two-period electoral campaign with two policy issues, an incumbent and a possibly more competent challenger compete for election by voters who are heterogeneously informed about the state of the world. Due to the asymmetries in government responsibility between candidates, the incumbent's statement may convey information on the relevance of the issues to voters. In equilibrium, the incumbent sometimes strategically releases his statement early and thus signals the importance of his signature issue to the voters. We find that, since the incumbent's positioning on the issue reveals private information which the challenger can use in later statements, the incumbent's incentives to distort the campaign are decreasing in his quality, as previously documented by the empirical literature. The distortions arising in equilibrium are decreasing in the incumbent's true competence; however, the distortions may be increasing in the incumbent's expected competence on his signature issue.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-308
Number of pages21
JournalGerman Economic Review
Issue number3
Early online date22 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Incumbency advantage
  • electoral competition
  • information revelation
  • agenda setting

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