The Puzzling Politics of R&d: Signaling Competence Through Risky Projects

Natalia Lamberova (University of California, Los Angeles)

Abstract: Why do some leaders devote significant funds to research and development (R&D) even though such investments are risky, less visible to the public than many other investments, and typically bear fruit only after the incumbent has already left office? This paper suggests that investing in R&D improves the incumbent’s perceived competence among voters. Using a formal model of signaling, survey experiments conducted in the US and Russia, and corroborating cross-country evidence, I demonstrate that investment in R&D improves perceptions of incumbent competence and approval of the government among the citizenry.

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