Public Choice

, Volume 176, Issue 1–2, pp 315–340 | Cite as

The problem of polarization

  • Robert GrafsteinEmail author


This paper offers a unified political economy explanation of political extremism and moderation regarding income redistribution. Unlike the standard spatial voting model, the explanation herein recognizes that extremists are distinguished not only by their political positions, but also by the intensity with which they hold them. The paper uses an extension of Aumann and Kurz’s (Econometrica 45(5):1137–1161, 1977) bargaining model to endogenize moderation and extremism in the context of democratic voting. The extension shows that low-income voters tend to be bolder in their redistributive demands and high-income voters tend to be more tenacious in defending them. These hypotheses are evaluated empirically using the Political Action Panel Study.


Polarization Political extremism Noncooperative game Fear of ruin 

JEL Classification

P16 C71 D72 



I thank Keith Dougherty and Howard Rosenthal for very helpful comments on the current version, and Ryan Bakker, James Campbell, Robert Cooper, Gregory Martin, Keith Poole, Joel Simmons, Guy Whitten, and Andrei Zhimov for helpful comments on earlier versions. The usual absolution applies.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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