Are Politicians Vote-Maximizers?
According to the second assumption of the public-choice school, politicians, just like voters, are primarily guided by their self-interest. Theorists of the school do not contest the obvious fact that politicians say that they strive towards the general good. This they must do in order to be re-elected. However, to command the power of government with all its benefits is what the theorists believe to be dearest to the politicians. Politicians try to maximize their votes in order to gain power rather than in order to put their political platforms into practice. How should one go about putting this hypothesis concerning politicians as vote-maximizers to an empirical test?
Downs's clarity and consistency makes him once again a suitable starting-point for a discussion of this problem; the distinction between vote-maximization and the realization of political goals is taken from him. Downs goes directly to the question of how to account for the proliferation of ideological statements in politics if, indeed, the self-interest hypothesis is correct and politicians are 'interested in gaining office per se, not in promoting a better or an ideal society'. His answer is that ideologies can help rational citizens by cutting down the amount of time they need to make their choice. By voting according to the general ideological leaning of each party instead of comparing their proposals in detail, the voters can drastically reduce their 'information costs', as Downs puts it. Similarly, the 'decision costs' of a party are much lowered if it does not have to make a precise estimation of the effect various reforms might have on the party's support amongst different groups of voters but rather 'fashions an ideology which it believes will attract the greatest number of votes'.