Ambiguous Platforms and Correlated Preferences: Experimental Evidence

Juha Tolvanen, James Tremewan, Alexander K. Wagner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper studies, theoretically and experimentally, a model of electoral competition that allows for platforms where candidates may be ambiguous about which policy they will implement if elected. We argue that uncertainty about the policy preferences of the electorate, combined with perceived similarity of voters and candidates, can lead to the latter running on these ambiguous platforms. By appealing to voters from both ends of the spectrum, such platforms can ensure electoral success for noncentrist candidates in a sufficiently polarized society. Ambiguous platforms pose a threat to democratic representation because winning noncentrists always implement policies in favor of a minority and against the preferences of the majority. In our laboratory experiment, ambiguous platforms are chosen frequently by candidates and gain notable support from voters. Our main treatment variation provides causal evidence that ambiguous platforms are more popular among noncentrist voters if one of the candidates is a known centrist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)734-750
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association.


  • political ambiguity
  • experimental economics
  • behavioral economics
  • strategic reasoning
  • correlation neglect
  • electoral competition

Fields of Science and Technology Classification 2012

  • 502 Economics
  • 506 Political Science

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