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Inequality, Polarization and Culture Wars

Peter Buisseret, Assistant Professor of Government, Harvard University
Encina Hall West, Room 400

We study an election between a “Left” versus a “Right” party. The parties compete both on taxes and on cultural policies. Voters cast ballots and make campaign contributions to their preferred party. When the parties divide solely on taxes, Left wins votes from the poor majority while Right secures donations from the rich minority. Right’s money advantage is decisive in high-inequality contexts, encouraging disadvantaged Left to diverge on cultural issues to court wealthier voters. Left’s vote advantage is decisive in low-inequality contexts, encouraging disadvantaged Right to diverge on cultural issues to court poorer voters. Cultural divergence benefits the disadvantaged party even when its policy is minority-preferred. The onset of culture wars reduces Left’s and Right's polarization on taxes as voters realign across the two parties.


Peter Buisseret is an assistant professor of government at Harvard University. He works in the fields of political economy and formal theory. His research uses the tools of game theory to study political institutions, how they structure political and economic incentives, and how they can be improved. His research is in applied formal theory and political economy. He studies how political institutions shape individual and collective decisions across a range of electoral and legislative contexts. His work falls into three broad themes: electoral competition, accountability and representation, and dynamic policymaking.

His work appears in the American Political Science Review, the American Economic Review, and the American Journal of Political Science. He previously held faculty positions at the University of Chicago and the University of Warwick. He received his PhD from Princeton University.