Optimal Political Career Dynamics

We examine politicians’ career dynamics generated by political accountability, characterizing voter-optimal equilibrium play under repeated moral hazard. When moral hazard binds, equilibrium play is non-stationary: Re-election prospects improve with good performance and deteriorate with bad. First-term politicians are among the most electorally vulnerable and the hardest-working, and effort and electoral vulnerability both tend to decline with tenure. These dynamics enable a detailed analysis of limited voter commitment, voluntary retirement from politics, and adverse selection with politicians’ ability and effort being complementary. Our analysis highlights how a politician’s career is shaped by voters’ evolving “goodwill” toward her.
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