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Majoritarian identity politics has become salient in representative democracies. Why do parties engage in identity politics and what are its consequences? We present a model of electoral competition in which parties capture voter groups based on their identity, and compete over an economic policy platform for the support of non-partisan voters. In addition, the party that caters to majoritarian interests makes a costly investment in polarizing identity. The investment provides subsequent payoffs to voters who have a preference for identity. When voter preferences over policy platforms are idiosyncratic in nature, greater investment in polarizing identity (i) increases both parties’ rents from office; and (ii) marginalizes minority voter interests. Further, the majoritarian party substitutes away from economic policy platforms. This enhances its overall payoffs in equilibrium and decreases that of the non-majoritarian party. We discuss the implications in context of episodes of majoritarianism in India, Turkey, Brazil, and the United States.


ESI Working Paper 20-13

Formerly titled "Identity Politics, Clientelism, and Public Goods Provision: Theory and Evidence".



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