Electoral Confidence, Overconfidence, and Risky Behavior: Evidence from a Study with Elected Politicians

  • Lior ShefferEmail author
  • Peter Loewen
Original Paper


Democratic theory makes strong assumptions about the relationship between politicians’ likelihood of retaining office and their behavior in office. Specifically, confidence in re-election is often used to explain a willingness to take risks. In this paper, we make a distinction between politicians’ accurate assessments of their likelihood of being re-elected and an overestimation of this likelihood (i.e. their overconfidence). We argue that overconfidence by politicians is associated with a higher willingness to make risky decisions. Using a sample of incumbent members of the national parliaments of Belgium, Canada, and Israel, we show that their preference for risk-taking is predicted by self-reported confidence in their likelihood of re-election. We further show that this relationship is largely explained by overconfidence, while ‘objective’ electoral safety is not associated with risky behavior in office.



We wish to thank Stefaan Walgrave, Stuart Soroka, Tamir Sheafer, Eran Amsalem, Matthew Ayling, Yves Dejaeghere, Lynn Epping, Jeroen Joly, Yogev Karasenty, Julie Sevenans, Tal Shahaf, Kirsten Van Camp, Debby Vos, and Alon Zoizner for their work on this project; the editor and three anonymous reviewers for their thorough and helpful feedback; participants of the 2017 University of Notre Dame Conference on Elite Personality and Political Institutions, the 2017 Midwest Political Science Association and Southern Political Science Association conferences, and the 2015 NYU Abu Dhabi Workshop on Behavioural Models of Politics. This work was supported by the European Research Council [Advanced Grant ‘INFOPOL’, 295735] and the Research Fund of the University of Antwerp [Grant 26827].

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethics Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9438_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (510 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 510 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.School of Public Policy and Governance and Department of Political ScienceUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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