Time and Punishment: Concession and Blame in Political Standoffs


(Link to draft.Political negotiation frequently looks like two sides staring each other down, waiting for the other to blink. In these showdowns, neither sides wishes to concede, claiming this would incur voter displeasure. However, this implies a responsiveness to voter sentiment that may not exist. Whether punishment from an audience influences bargaining behavior is not well understood, and there are few theories about how voters allocate blame for different bargaining outcomes. We conduct a laboratory experiment to investigate two interrelated questions: how does anticipation of blame drive bargaining behavior, and how do observers of the bargaining process allocate blame? In our experiment, we adopt a dynamic war of attrition to model a negotiating situation in which concession time is the key choice variable, and our design compares versions of the game with and without an observer (whose payoffs depend on the outcome and who can punish the bargainers). We find that the presence of an observer has little effect on bargaining outcomes but appears to shorten the duration of standoffs. We also find that observers tend to punish the winning bargainer, which is qualitatively consistent with rational play, but that they use less punishment than is optimal. Negotiators, like politicians, may not adequately anticipate when, or how much, they will be blamed, preventing them from altering their choices and achieving better outcomes.


Ian Palmer Cook, University of Pittsburgh; Jonathan Woon, University of Pittsburgh

Dissertation, Under Review, Working Papers   :   July 30, 2014 4:37 PM  :  read more »

About the Author

Ian P. Cook is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying American Politics. He has also been a researcher with the RAND Corporation. No material on this site implies endorsement by either institution.