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Elections, ability, and candidate honesty

Jonathan Woon and Kristin Kanthak

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2019, vol. 157, issue C, 735-753

Abstract: An important function of elections is to select the best representative, a task facilitated when candidates are honest about their qualifications. But are they? To what extent do candidates’ claims depend on the alignment of incentives between themselves and voters? We conduct an incentivized laboratory experiment in which candidates can choose to be honest or to exaggerate, varying the benefits of winning office. We find that strong office motives clearly induce exaggeration and, surprisingly, that only about half of laboratory candidates tell the truth even when incentives are completely aligned. We show that the prevalence of lying in elections results not from impure (e.g., Machiavellian) motives, but rather as a rational response to the expectation that other candidates will lie. Although honesty and integrity are desirable virtues in elected officials, our experiment suggests that the nature of electoral processes can make dishonesty endemic to the democratic selection of leaders.

Keywords: Elections; Political selection; Campaigning; Lying; Belief elicitation; Laboratory experiment (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D72 D82 C92 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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