A theory of policy sabotage

Alexander V. Hirsch, Jonathan P. Kastellec

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We develop a theory of policymaking that examines when policy sabotage—the deliberate choice by an opposition party to interfere with the implementation of a policy—can be an effective electoral strategy, even if rational voters can observe that it is happening. In our model, a potential saboteur chooses whether to sabotage an incumbent’s policy by blocking its successful implementation. A voter then decides whether to retain the incumbent, who is of unknown ability, or to select a challenger. We find that the incentives for sabotage are broadly shaped by the underlying popularity of the incumbent—it is most attractive when an incumbent is somewhat unpopular. If so, sabotage may decrease the probability the incumbent is reelected, even though sabotage is observable to the voter. This is because while the saboteur knows that sabotage will improve the incumbent’s reputation, he fears that absent sabotage a policy success will improve that reputation even more.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-218
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Theoretical Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Accountability
  • elections
  • policy
  • sabotage


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