Does informative media commentary reduce politicians' incentives to pander?

Does informative media commentary reduce politicians' incentives to pander?

By
Scott Ashworth, Ken Shotts
Journal of Public Economics. December
2010, Vol. 94, Issue 11-12, Pages 838–847

Elections sometimes give policy makers incentives to pander, i.e., to implement a policy that voters think is in their best interest, even though the policy maker knows that a different policy is actually better for the voters. Pandering incentives are typically attenuated when voters learn, prior to the election, whether the policy chosen by the incumbent truly was in their best interest. This suggests that the media can improve accountability by reporting to voters information about whether an incumbent made good policy choices. We show that, although media monitoring does sometimes eliminate the incumbent’s incentive to pander, in other cases it makes the problem of pandering worse. Furthermore, in some circumstances incumbent incentives are improved when the media acts as a “yes man”—suppressing some information that indicates the policy maker made the wrong choice. We explain these seemingly paradoxical results by focusing on how media commentary affects voters’ tendency to apply an asymmetric burden of proof to the incumbent, based on whether she pursues popular or unpopular policies.