Pandora’s Ballot Box: Electoral Politics of Referendums (joint with Richard Van Weelden)
Two parties compete in an election, in which one of the parties holds an initial valence advantage. The parties diverge on a traditional ideological issue, but are also internally divided on a second issue dimension. We study how an office-motivated incumbent may use a referendum on the second issue to improve its electoral prospects. When the parties are not too polarized on traditional issues, a popular party uses a referendum to resolve the second issue, thereby orienting the election away from policy conflicts and towards valence. By contrast, a disadvantaged party uses a referendum to intensify the second issue's salience, and to divide its stronger opponent's base. When, instead, the parties are very polarized on traditional issues, the advantaged party calls a referendum to elevate the issue's salience. The disadvantaged party, instead, uses a referendum to settle the second issue, in order to focus the election on the traditional ideological conflict.