Accountability, Framing Effects, and Risk-Seeking by Elected Representatives: An Experimental Study with American Local Politicians

Lior Sheffer, Peter John Loewen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Risk management underlies almost every aspect of elite politics. However, due to the difficulty of administering assessment tasks to elites, direct evidence on the risk preferences of elected politicians scarcely exists. As a result, we do not know how consistent are politicians’ risk preferences, and under what conditions they can be changed. In this paper, we conduct a survey experiment with 440 incumbent local politicians from across the United States. Using a modified version of the Asian Disease framing experiment, we show that gain/loss frames alter the stated risk preferences of elected officials. We further show that priming democratic accountability increases the tendency to engage in risky behavior, but that this shift in preference only occurs in those politicians who are interested in seeking reelection. These results inform several political science theories that assume stable risk preferences by political elites, or that make no risk assumptions whatsoever. They also provide insights into the role of political ambition and accountability in structuring the behavior of political elites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Volume72
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • accountability
  • elites
  • experiments
  • framing
  • progressive ambition
  • risk

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