Politicians are required to make policy decisions that involve short-term and long-term tradeoffs, and existing theory largely expects election-driven myopic thinking to dominate their reasoning when they do so. Direct evidence on this is surprisingly absent, leaving open questions on whether and when politicians do support future-oriented policies, and what factors, beyond the shadow of elections, influence such choices. Responding to this gap, we report results of a multi-year survey of more than 1500 elected politicians who faced an original decision task involving short-term and long-term solutions to a local policy problem. First, we show that politicians' theories of voting behavior—specifically, their beliefs about whether voters focus on the short or the long term—strongly predict their decisions when facing inter-temporal policy tradeoffs. Second, we show that politicians are responsive to changes to short-run costs associated with long-term policy investments. Finally, we leverage the panel design of our study and find—in contrast to prevalent assumptions—no evidence that politicians' policy choices are related to their proximity to the next election. In doing so, we expand and refine the theoretical framework on inter-temporal choice by policymakers, and outline a comparative research agenda for studying how politicians think about the future.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sociology and Political Science
- Public Administration