Negative advertising is frequent in electoral campaigns, despite its ambiguous effectiveness: Negativity may reduce voters’ evaluation of the targeted politician but may have a backlash effect for the attacker. We study the effect of negative advertising in electoral races with more than two candidates with a large-scale field experiment during an electoral campaign for mayor in Italy and a survey experiment in a fictitious mayoral campaign. In our field experiment, we find a strong, positive spillover effect on the third main candidate (neither the target nor the attacker). This effect is confirmed in our survey experiment, which creates a controlled environment with no ideological components or strategic voting. The negative ad has no impact on the targeted incumbent, has a sizable backlash effect on the attacker, and largely benefits the idle candidate. The attacker is perceived as less cooperative, less likely to lead a successful government, and more ideologically extreme.
“The Economic Effects of Electoral Rules: Evidence from Unemployment Benefits”, 2019, Quarterly Journal of Political Science (with S. Nunnari)
This paper provides a novel test of the link from electoral rules to economic policies. We focus on unemployment benefits because their classification as a broad or targeted transfer may vary — over time and across countries — according to the geographical dispersion of unemployed citizens, the main beneficiaries of the program. A simple theoretical model delivers unambiguous predictions on the interaction between electoral institutions and the unemployment rate in contestable and safe districts. Due to electoral incentives, the difference in the unemployment generosity between majoritarian and proportional systems depends on the difference in the unemployment rate between contestable and safe districts. We test this prediction using a novel dataset with information on electoral competitiveness and unemployment rates at district level, and different measures of unemployment benefit generosity for 16 OECD countries between 1980 and 2011. The empirical analysis strongly supports the theoretical predictions.
“Political Selection under Alternative Electoral Rules” Public Choice, 2017, pp. 257–281 (with T. Nannicini)
We study the patterns of political selection in majoritarian versus proportional systems. Political parties face a trade off in choosing the mix of high- and low-quality candidates: high-quality candidates are valuable to voters, and thus help to win elections, but they crowd out loyal candidates, who are most preferred by the parties. Under proportional representation, politicians’ selection depends on the share of swing voters in the entire electorate. In majoritarian elections, it depends also on the distribution of competitive versus safe (single-member) districts. We show that a majoritarian system with only a few competitive districts is less capable of selecting good politicians than a proportional system. As the share of competitive districts increases, the majoritarian system becomes more efficient than the proportional system. However, for a large enough share of competitive districts, a non-monotonic relation arises: the marginal (positive) effect of adding high-quality politicians on the probability of winning the election is reduced, and highly competitive majoritarian systems become less efficient than proportional ones in selecting good politicians.
"The role of political partisanship during economic crises", 2014, Public Choice, 158, pp 143-165.
Major economic crises may promote structural reforms, by increasing the cost of the status quo, or hinder them, by inducing more demand for protection. The ideology and political partisanship of the ruling government may be crucial in determining the prevailing course of action. In good times, conservative parties are typically pro-reform. However, do these parties try to exploit periods of crisis to carry out their reforms? Do social-democratic parties support even greater social protection? To answer these questions, this paper uses indicators of structural reforms in the labor, product, and financial markets for 25 OECD countries over the 1975–2008 period. The empirical analysis confirms the ambiguous effect of crises: product markets are liberalized, but financial markets become more regulated. Partisan politics also matters, as right parties are associated with more pro-market reforms. Yet, crises modify partisan politics: right-wing parties refrain from promoting privatizations, and oppose the introduction of greater financial market regulations. By contrast, center parties liberalize and trim unemployment benefits generosity, while left parties privatize. Furthermore, weak, fractionalized governments, which are associated with more regulated product markets, are also more likely to liberalize during a crisis.
“Competing on good politicians”, American Political Science Review, 2011, 105, pp 79-99 (with T. Nannicini).
Is electoral competition good for political selection? To address this issue, we introduce a theoretical model where ideological parties select and allocate high-valence (experts) and low-valence (party loyalists) candidates into electoral districts. Voters care about a national policy (e.g., party ideology) and the valence of their district's candidates. High-valence candidates are more costly for the parties to recruit. We show that parties compete by selecting and allocating good politicians to the most contestable districts. Empirical evidence on Italian members of parliament confirms this prediction: politicians with higher ex ante quality, measured by years of schooling, previous market income, and local government experience, are more likely to run in contestable districts. Indeed, despite being different on average, politicians belonging to opposite political coalitions converge to high-quality levels in close electoral races. Furthermore, politicians elected in contestable districts have fewer absences in parliament, due to a selection effect more than to reelection incentives.
“Constitutional “Rules” and Intergenerational Fiscal Policy”, Constitutional Political Economy, 9(1), 1998, pp. 67-74 (with C. Azariadis).
This paper analyzes the impact of alternative political institutions on sustainable fiscal policies. We study the choice of intergenerational transfers as outcomes of an infinite social security game among successive selfish median voters. Majoritarian systems accord the current median voter maximum fiscal discretion but no direct influence over future policy. This political arrangement sustains, among others, dynamically inefficient transfers and volatile, non-stationary sequences. Constitutional “rules” award to the minorities veto power over fiscal policy changes proposed by the majority. This unanimity provision is equivalent to partial precommitment. Under constitutional “rules,” sustainable fiscal policies feature Pareto efficient, non decreasing transfer sequences.