RWAP: Georgia Kernell: A Model of Party Activism

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
12:00pm to 2:00pm
223 Moses Hall
UC Berkeley

Political parties around the world use varying methods to recruit activists, select candidates, and allocate resources. But our knowledge about how these rules impact voting behavior is limited. This paper presents a spatial model examining how party institutions shape party, candidate positions, and electoral success. In the model, citizens decide whether or not to become active for a political party. Joining a party may be costly, so parties offer activists two types of benefits. Selective benefits, such as a subscription to the party newsletter or opportunities to form a professional network, have no direct effect on government policy. These benefits are most appealing to citizens whose ideal points are aligned with those of the party. Instrumental benefits, in contrast, do affect government policy. Joining a party may affect its popularity among voters or alter its position, which can then impact election outcomes. The paper is motivated by empirical research in both the U.S. and long-standing parliamentary democracies. The model has implications for democratic representation, citizen engagement, and government responsiveness.