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Working paper

Electoral competition with costly issue selection

In this work I analyze the effect of electoral uncertainty on issue trespassing. I build a model of political competition between two candidates in which each candidate decides how much effort to spend in order to increase her competence on each of the two issues. It is assumed that there are two groups of voters, each believing that one of the two issues is more salient. Each candidate is strong on one issue (so the costs of increasing the competence on that issue are lower), and weak on the other issue. I also assume that there is electoral uncertainty: the voters receive a valence shock in favor of one of the two candidates. I show that the effect of electoral uncertainty is conditional upon the payoffs to the candidates with respect to their vote shares. Electoral uncertainty results in more issue trespassing (when candidates focus more on the strong issues of their opponents) only if winning the election by a large margin confers additional benefits relative to winning by a narrow margin, and there are no benefits from losing by a narrow margin relative to losing by a wide margin. I also show that the competition on both issues is the strongest if the voter valuation of these issues is homogeneous, when more information on voter preferences is available to the candidates, and when the costs of competing on either strong or weak issues are lower. This work was completed with the support of the HSE Scientific Fund, grant no. 11-01-0035