Politicians are routinely hypocritical in support of partisan ends.
I'll provide a few examples to demonstrate what I mean:
When their party's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court is facing confirmation, they insist that every candidate should receive a fair hearing and an up or down vote. When an opposing party's nominee is in the same shoes, they claim to be proud to play hardball to keep that person off the bench.
When their partisans are accused of personal misconduct, they downplay or deny that there was wrongdoing, while they push for harsh accountability when their opponents are accused.
When the other party runs up huge deficits they decry that party's gross irresponsibility, and then run up huge deficits themselves without a peep of complaint about their own party's actions.
When the other party secures a diplomatic agreement they complain about being too soft on the nation's adversaries, and then when they are in power coo over the positive aspects of the nation's adversaries, presumably in the interests of diplomacy.
Politicians who decry government regulation when another party is in power often actively support a great deal of government regulation when they are power.
The rare politicians who take long term positions on a bipartisan basis, while hailed as statesmen by some observers are frequently decried as traitors by their fellow partisans.
Politicians do not behave this way, because voters don't care, not by mistake, or because their hypocrisy is unlikely to be observed.
While an occasional politician may indeed be dumb, as an occupational class, overall and on average, they aren't stupid.
Politicians act this way, in part, because they know that they won't pay a political price with voters for taking inconsistent positions or acting hypocritically in pursuit of partisan advantage.
And, this isn't because their hypocritical conduct is unlikely to be discovered. The portion of the voting public that is paying attention is routinely made aware of hypocrisy on the part of politicians when in occurs in news reporting, in published opinion pieces, on social media, in discussions with other people about politics, and in attack ads when election season rolls around.
It seems to follow logically, that politicians aren't concerned about acting hypocritically because voters and other people whose support they need don't really care about this conduct.
Whatever causes this behavior, moreover, has to be pretty fundamental, because this conclusion holds true robustly. While I drew my examples of hypocrisy above mostly from U.S. politics, the observation that politicians aren't worried about hypocrisy and taking inconsistent political positions over time, seems to be fairly universal. The same conduct is routinely seen in every other country with democratic elections of which I am aware.
Even politicians in totalitarian regimes act this way, leading to sudden about faces on what is good and bad in regimes like China that sound like they come right out of George Orwell's "1984", and while totalitarian politicians don't have to campaign in democratic election, they too should care somewhat what people think about their actions, because still need public support to be legitimate and need support from leadership group elites.
Political theory naively suggests that voters should care about hypocrisy
Median voters tend to have fairly stable interests.
For example, the extent to which U.S. counties are liberal v. conservative in their electoral behavior in the U.S. on relative basis has been largely unchanged for at least a century and a half. For example, rural Indiana and Arkansas have leaned conservative, while New England and major U.S. cities have leaned liberal since before the mid-19th century, even as the liberal and conservative political parties in the U.S. have flipped.
The median voter theorem, which has considerable empirical support, argues that politicians pursue policies that favor the median voter.
So, it would naively seem that voters should favor politicians who can make credible long term commitments to policies and political norms that advance their interests, over those who demonstrate hypocrisy who will betray their constituents from time to time.
And, as I noted above, information about hypocrisy by politicians is one of the more widely disseminated kinds of information about politicians in our political system and most democratic systems. So, if any information about the conduct of politicians is available and influences voter conduct, information about hypocrisy on the part of politicians should be a powerful force influencing voter behavior.
But, empirically, it also seems clear that voters don't care in a way that influences how they vote. There is no evidence that politicians who act or in a hypocritical manner have a harder time getting re-elected. If anything, the reverse is true.
More generally, it seems that the public isn't very concerned about hypocrisy by politicians when their concerns are evaluated on the basis of their revealed preferences (i.e. by what they do rather than by what they say), even though many people in the abstract would say that politicians shouldn't be hypocritical.
My question is, why do voters not care when politicians are hypocritical in support of partisan ends? Is there any political theory literature that explains this phenomena?