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Political Science and Political Economy Research Seminar

Keep your Enemies Closer: Strategic Candidate Adjustments in U.S. and French Elections

Caroline Le Pennec (HEC Montreal), joint with Rafael Di Tella, Randy Kotti and Vincent Pons

Tuesday 07 March 2023 14:00 - 15:30

Many of our seminars and public events this year will continue as in person or as hybrid (online and in person) events. Please check our website listings and Twitter feed @STICERD_LSE for updates.

Unless otherwise specified, in-person seminars are open to the public.

Those unable to join the seminars in-person are welcome to participate via zoom if the event is hybrid.

About this event

A key tenet of representative democracy is that politicians should adjust their discourse and policies to the voters who elect them. The Median Voter Theorem (MVT) predicts that, if candidates are fully strategic, they will adjust to their opponent’s platform until converging to the median voter. Despite its importance in political economy, we lack direct rigorous tests of the convergence mechanism underlying the MVT. In this paper, we provide direct evidence that candidates adjust their discourse toward their competitors, and that they converge to each other in ideological tone and rhetorical complexity. We collect the content of 9,000 candidate websites before a primary or general election for the U.S. House of Representatives between 2002 and 2016 as well as 57,000 campaign manifestos issued by candidates running in the first or second round of the French parliamentary and local elections between 1958 and 2022. We first show that, as their electorate broadens, candidates running in both election stages tend to converge to the center of the ideology or complexity scales in the second stage, and to diversify the set of topics they focus on. Second, we exploit cases in which the identity of candidates qualified for the second round is quasi-random, by focusing on elections in which candidates narrowly won their primary (in the U.S.) or narrowly qualified for the runoff (in France). Using a regression discontinuity design, we find that second-round candidates converge to the platform of their actual opponent, as compared to the platform of the runner-up who did not qualify for the last round. Our findings suggest that politicians are strategic and that, even though they do not fully converge to the median voter, the convergence mechanism underlying this prediction is real.

The Political Science and Political Economy (PSPE) research group at the LSE brings together faculty and PhD students who do quantitative and/or formal research on political institutions, political behaviour, public policy, and political economy.

The PSPE Research Seminar provides a venue for researchers (mostly from outside of the LSE) to present their work.

These seminars are held on Tuesdays in term time at 14.00-15.30, both ONLINE AND IN PERSON in room SAL 3.05, unless specified otherwise.

Seminar coordinator: Mathilde Emeriau

Contact to be added to the mailing list and to recieve the zoom link.

For further information please contact Sadia Ali: