Some Potential Negatives of Elite Polarization

18 Feb

Growing ideological distance between the parties has produced clearer choices. This added clarity has resulted in improved propensity among voters to make ideologically consistent choices (Levendusky 2010). This is seen as a positive.

However, there may be some negative normative implications as well. If parties have moved away from the center, and if most people are near the center (as data shows), two things follow –
1) The average distance of each of those people from either of the parties has increased. So people’s choices have become impoverished.
2) The penalty of misclassification – for a leaner to mistakenly vote for the wrong party – has increased substantially. It may well be that while propensity of misclassification has decreased, the penalty has increased, leaving aggregate utility slightly worse off.

Secondly, if the government is at least partly in the business of providing public goods that require collective action (distributed costs), the split nature of constituencies and constituency-based entrenched positions may very likely lead to an under-provision of public goods.

Thirdly, and something that is covered in the first point, clearer choices don’t mean the choices that are the best, or even what people want. One would hope that the choices on offer are optimal but we know that monopolies or duopolies under conditions where start-up costs are high to get into the sector have a sparse record to providing something like that.

Fourthly, it also follows that given we have firm partisans, parties will stop broadening their constituencies beyond a certain point due to the law of really rapidly diminishing returns under sorted electorate conditions. This will mean that the policy buckets shrink, and they will have larger incentives to cater to their bases.

Fifthly, the legitimacy of the government is likely to be reduced among the losing camp which has reasons to believe that the ruling coalition doesn’t represent it.