I am looking for a term for a candidate who wants and hopes to win an election, but has no intention of fulfilling the role if elected. He wishes to be elected in order to prevent it being done at all. He is quite open about this. Is there a word or phrase with this meaning?

Here is an example. An elected official is responsible for arranging for public footpaths to be kept clear of weeds and obstacles and in a usable condition. Many of these paths run adjacent to people's back gardens or across farmland. The current holder of the post is a keen rambler and walker and has been doing a particularly good job, and the paths are better used. However many of the local residents would prefer the paths to be less used and somebody is standing for the post who intends to do the very minimum he can get away with, because he, like many of his neighbours, does not want the paths to be maintained.

The county authorities require each parish to elect an official to maintain paths. These paths are intended for the benefit of non-locals as well as locals. However some of the locals, who form the electorate, would prefer them not to be maintained.

Is there a term used to describe such a candidate?

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    I’m voting to close this question because it belongs on English Language Mar 4, 2021 at 8:00
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    @MartinSchröder Most fields of knowledge have technical terms for concepts within their field. I would think a technical term, if there is one, for a concept within a field might be on-topic within that field. Of course, all such terms are also part of the English Language.
    – davidlol
    Mar 4, 2021 at 8:46
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    Another example would be the North-Irish elected MPs of the party Sinn Féin who were elected on the promise to not take their seats in the British parliament. The reason is that the party policy is that they reject the Westminster parliaments jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and that they refuse to swear an oath to the Queen, whose authority they also reject.
    – Philipp
    Mar 4, 2021 at 12:33
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    People often call political maneuvering that prevents other political maneuvering "obstructionist". That's close maybe, but I'm having trouble imagining a real situation that one would run on an obstructionist platform. In your hypothetical, it makes more sense that the platform would be to remove the paths.
    – user2578
    Mar 4, 2021 at 16:10
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    It's been argued that Trump was trying something like this when he elected Louis DeJoy to be post office chief. Allegedly DeJoy goal was not to fix the post office's financial issues, but instead to sabotage and slow the offices handling of mail specifically to make mail in ballots not arrive in time and to discourage people to vote via mail in ballots (dems made significantly more use of mail in ballots).
    – dsollen
    Mar 4, 2021 at 18:53

5 Answers 5


I think the closest general phrase would be "obstructionist candidate", which a comment already suggested. Not all nimbyist candidates are obstructionist. A candidate for a municipal council that writes zoning or development regulations could run on the basis of intending to modify the regulations or ordinances to reduce or prohibit development. Such a person is not intending to omit to do the job s/he is elected to do, but merely to follow a particular policy. But the person elected to maintain infrastructure who intentionally does not keep it up because of a preference that it not be used is a bit different. That is not a valid policy choice, because that policy is not within the scope of the office such a person holds. It is, indeed, nothing but obstructionism.

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    Downvoted for the commentary at the end.
    – fectin
    Mar 5, 2021 at 16:38
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    @fectin I think the views at the end of my answer are reasonable, and proper as part of explaining why I see "obstructionist" as a good term for this kind of candidate. But thank you for letting me know the reason for your downvote. Mar 5, 2021 at 17:05
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    I understand your view on this. I view "not a valid policy choice" as incorrect philosophically and practically: the validity of that policy choice is a political question; i.e. one to be decided solely by voters.
    – fectin
    Mar 5, 2021 at 20:45
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    @fectin whether to have trails as described in the Q is a valid policy choice, to be politically determined. But it should be determined at the appropriate level, not by an official elected to implement the agreed policy. In the US, some states have made policy choices to have anti-discrimination laws. Those choices should not be undermined by local officials chosen to implement such laws. Arguing for a political change to a policy is a very different thing, as is running for the legislature that has such a policy in scope, with the avowed intent of changing the policy. Mar 5, 2021 at 21:52
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    Note the wording “person elected to maintain infrastructure”, as opposed to “person elected to create infrastructure policy”. Of course, these roles might overlap, but suppose they do not. In this case, if a person is so elected but intentionally fails to maintain the infrastructure, then they have indeed failed to meet the requirements of their position. Mar 6, 2021 at 11:42

If the candidate planned to do nothing on being elected they could be described as an abstentionist candidate. From Wikipedia page on Abstentionism:

Abstentionism is standing for election to a deliberative assembly while refusing to take up any seats won or otherwise participate in the assembly's business.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party with 7 MPs elected in the 2019 UK general election, stand on an abstentionist platform for elections to the Westminster parliament. Their MPs do not take their seats in Westminster although the party does participate the local devolved assembly and in the Irish parliament. They describe themselves as “abstentionist” so it appears the term is fairly commonly used. In the Wikipedia History of Sinn Féin page ex president Gerry Adams is quoted as describing the party’s policy thus:

We are an abstentionist party. It is not my intention to advocate change in this situation.

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    For those unfamiliar with UK politics: This is not a mere protest party. SF regularly wins a few seats in Northern Ireland every election cycle, openly running on a platform of "we are not going to show up if elected." OTOH they also win seats in the NI devolved assembly and in the Irish Parliament. With respect to those seats, they are not abstentionist and really do show up and vote.
    – Kevin
    Mar 5, 2021 at 22:28
  • @Kevin, thanks very much, I added in your comment verbatim. It was my intention to show use of the word “abstentionist” and didn’t consider I wasn’t clear about who Sinn Féin are and their position.
    – lx07
    Mar 6, 2021 at 6:36
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    "I don’t know how to get a URL for a specific comment" – The timestamp in the bottom right at the end of a comment after the username is a direct link to the comment. However, comments are ephemeral and are meant to be deleted once they are no longer needed (which a comment that was incorporated into the post isn't), so you'd be better off linking to the author's user profile in addition to the comment. Or, just incorporate the idea behind the comment instead of the comment verbatim. And lastly, you could also ask the author to license the comment to you for incorporation in the post. Mar 6, 2021 at 15:39
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    This seems like the only answer here that actually has the requested meaning.
    – reirab
    Mar 7, 2021 at 3:13
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    @BrianDrake: The answer author alluded to having difficulty complying with the attribution requirement. If you get a license from the comment author to relicense the comment under CC BY-SA 4.0, then there is no need for attribution and thus no difficulty complying with the attribution requirement. Mar 7, 2021 at 9:12

That would just be a form of sabotage.

Specific scenarios might have different terms attached. For example a regulatory agency decreasing regulation because its leadership is filled with former members of the industry it's regulating would be a form of regulatory capture.

The scenario you described where locals don't want a piece of public infrastructure to be located near where they live is a form of Nimbyism.

  • Thanks Teleka, but I am hoping for a word or phrase whose actual meaning is a canidate who openly intends not to fulfill the role. I know there are "paper candidates" and "dummy candidates" and I wonder if there is a word or phrase that means the kind of candidate I have described. Phillip and Thomas above have also given some examples.
    – davidlol
    Mar 4, 2021 at 16:26
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    Usually the "backyard" in NIMBY is metaphorical, but it's literal in this case :)
    – Barmar
    Mar 4, 2021 at 20:44
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    Deregulation would generally be the opposite of "regulatory capture." The pure form of that would be X, Y, and Z corporations pack the board, then require that everyone buy goods from their companies, no alternatives allowed.
    – fectin
    Mar 5, 2021 at 20:48
  • @fectin I'm not sure it is. If regulation is priced into the current market, then removing the regulation will benefit particular parties. For instance, if I buy up a bunch of land that's really cheap because of onerous regulation, then run for an office where I can remove that regulation, is that regulatory capture? Mar 5, 2021 at 22:46
  • @Acccumulation arguably, but not in any normal use. You'd have a better argument for applying the regulation to drive the value down in the first place, but even that's iffy. The usual use is much more about rent-seeking from highly regulated industries. Here's a long form answer though: academic.oup.com/oxrep/article/22/2/203/334718
    – fectin
    Mar 6, 2021 at 17:54

Borrowing from biology, could the term be a nocebo candidate? Whereas the biological equivalent of placebo into politics would be candidate that is pleasing yet provides no actual benefit, a nocebo willingly causes harm, being a waste or detriment to its host.

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    An interesting metaphor, but I don't think it's at all used in political conversation.
    – user2578
    Mar 5, 2021 at 17:54

In most of the cases I can think of I would use the term: "Anti Establishment". E.g. you have a city council that wants to do a thing, and therefore tries to make advisory groups etc. based on the agenda there is. Then someone gets openly elected to do the opposite.

I am aware that this phrase at this point of time is widely overused though.

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    I think that would be confusing. An "anti-establishment" person is one who is opposed to the views of the mainstream, or the elites in power. The US hippies were described as anti-establishment. Trump called himself that, on the ground that he claimed to be oppossing entrenched political elites. In the hiking path example, perhaps a large majority in the town are opposed to the paths, making this a local establishment view. Mar 5, 2021 at 15:44

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