Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Attendance Rates, Political Shirking, and the Effect of Post-Elective Office Employment

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Attendance Rates, Political Shirking, and the Effect of Post-Elective Office Employment

Article excerpt



Political shirking--the degree to which a politican's actions deviate from the wishes of his constituents--can take many different dimensions. Economists (e.g., Amacher and Boyes [1978], Davis and Porter [1989], Dougan and Munger [1989], Kalt and Zupan [1984], Lott [1987d], Nelson and Siberberg [1987], and Peltzman [1984]) have debated whether shirking exists in how a politician votes when he does vote. This divergence is measured through some particular "special interest" voting ratings (e.g., American Conservative Union, Americans for Democratic Action, etc.). However, shirking can obviously take as many forms as there are outputs that a politician produces. Besides how he votes, he also produces services for his constituents involving everything from being personally available to listen to the constituents' grievances to ensuring effective handling of case work by his staff (see, for example, Fiorina [1977], Fenno [1978], and Cain et al. [1987]). (1) One dimension that has not been sufficiently examined is the extent to which politicians shirk by failing to vote on pending legislation. (2) No attention has been given to which mechanisms will make this particular type of shirking relatively more costly.

Most economists agree that opportunitic behavior by politicians is limited by the threat of reelection (e.g., Amacher and Boyes [1978], Barro [1973], Kalt and Zupan [1984], Nelson [1976], and Telser [1976]). (3) By implication, the level of shirking should be the greatest when a politician decides to leave office. However, this opportunistic behavior might be reduced to the extent that political parties or constituencies impose costs for shirking through affecting politicisns' post-elective office career or the careers of their children. Thus, a politicians' last term in elective office may not represent his "last period" in any meaningful sense.

The next section outlines the differing views on how politicians act when they no longer face the threat of reelection. Section III describes some empirical evidence on what mechanisms may prevent this last-period problem. The final section discusses the impliactions of these results.


Whether economists view politicians as ideologues (e.g., Kau and Rubin [1979] and Kalt and Zupan [1984]) or as simply attempting to maximize political support (e.g., Barro [1973], Ferejohn [1986], Nelson [1976], and Peltzman [1984]), the threat of reelection is seen as preventing shirking. As Kalt and Zupan [1984, 298] phrase it, "it appears that the proximity of the next election inhibits ideological shirking."

Even those who do not view the last period as affecting how a politician votes argue that it will affect how often he votes. Lott [1987a; 1987b] has argued that if voters can determine and elect politicians that have ideological preferences corresponding exactly to the wishes of constituents, politicians' voting patterns should continue to reflect those values even when the cost of shirking, in terms of forgone future votes, is low. The penalty to ideologues of not votingfor their constituency in the last period when they no longer face reelection is the forgone utility from not doing what they personally value. Assuming that politicians also desire leisure, politicians should continue to vote for what they believe in, but they should vote less frequently since they no longer receive the additional return of larger future support.

Mechanisms to overcome this last-period problem have been suggested by Becker and Stigler [1974, 9-10]. They argue that opportunistic behavior can be controlled if officeholders face the loss of a pension (or, equivalently, a posted bond) in the event of opportunistic behavior in their last term. However, the actual pension system does not effectively eliminate the last period for politicians, since retirement payments are not based on cheating in the last period. …

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