Summary of the research program HIGH-RISK POLITICS

Politics often involves high risks. Increasing the pension age or intervening military, for instance, likely leads to losing votes or office. Moreover, political parties changing their policy position risk turning their voters away. The degree to which political actors take such electoral risks varies substantially. How to explain these varying attitudes towards risk? Existing explanations emphasizing, for example, partisanship or institutions are unable to explain this variation.

Deepening and broadening Barbara Vis's earlier work and taking up recent advances in behavioral economics, the overall aim of HIGH-RISK POLITICS is to advance and test a theory of political decision-making under risk that holds on the individual level, the meso level (parties), and the macro level (governments). Barbara Vis and her team draw on and develop prospect theory, which predicts that people take risk-averse decisions when facing gains while they are risk-seeking or acceptant when confronting losses.

The program's 1st objective is to test experimentally to what extent (groups of) politicians display the same attitude towards risk as "normal" individuals do, i.e., whether prospect theory's predictions hold. Jona Linde has been conducting this project. Objective 2 is to establish empirically why some political parties risk turning their constituency away by changing their policy position on salient topics, but others do not. Mariken van der Velden is conducting this project. Objective 3 is to assess empirically why some governments take decisions involving substantial electoral risks while others do not. Dieuwertje Kuijpers is working on this project.

The HIGH-RISK POLITICS team is answering the research questions through a series of quantitative, qualitative and experimental techniques. The program will result in: 1) detailed empirical knowledge on how different kinds of gains and losses shape political actors' decision-making under risk. This knowledge will among others be of interest for policymakers responsible for designing electorally hazardous policies. It 2) enables "better" decision-making through improved understanding of actors' behavior. It 3) produces a widely applicable theory. Finally, 4) it offers methodological advances by combining and confronting different state-of-the-art techniques.