Voting and Elections
Dr. Christopher S. Rice
University of Kentucky
How Two-Party Elections
Can Lead to Democracy
• Responsible-party government
• Electoral Competition
• Retrospective Voting/Electoral
Reward and Punishment
• Based on idea of elections providing a
real choice or alternative.
• Each of two parties is cohesive and uniﬁed
• Each party takes a clear policy position
that differentiates the two
• Citizens accurately perceive these
positions, vote on the basis of them
• Winning party will follow through on their
• Doesn’t guarantee popular sovereignty or
• Doesn’t guarantee winning party will take
popular policy positions – just the least
• Parties are NOT uniﬁed or cohesive, don’t
always take clear stands on issues.
• Voters do not vote solely on the issues
• Parties don’t always keep their promises.
Both parties should compete for votes
by taking the most popular positions
Electoral Competition Theory
• Two parties take clear, uniﬁed
stands on issues.
• Citizens vote based on issues.
• Parties do what they promised.
• Both parties likely to support the same
policies: those most favored by voters.
• Parties will tend to take policy stands
near midpoint of public opinion
• Doesn’t promise the parties will
educate or mobilize voters
• Ensures democratic control only if
parties are uniﬁed and take clear
• The need to raise campaign funds
could endanger concept of democracy.
• For democracy to work, voters have to:
• Vote only on issues + know
positions taken by parties
• Neither of these is likely
• EC one reason why government policy
inﬂuenced by popular opinion.
• People vote for incumbents when times are
good, against them when times are bad.
• Each election, retrospective judgments about
how incumbent ofﬁcials have done in the past.
• Parties compete by emphasizing competence,
way they reﬂect public’s goals, NOT by taking
speciﬁc policy stands.
• Voters don’t bother to form preferences
on complex issues – just voting on past
• Politicians have strong incentives to solve
problems people want solved.
• Simplicity – requires very little of voters.
• Allows voters to focus only on most
• Relies on selﬁshness of politicians
Problem: may encourage politicians to
produce deceptively happy results just
before an election.
• Allows time for deliberation,
Problem: gets rid of bad political leaders
only after disasters happen, no guarantee
next group will do any better.
Models of Voting Behavior
• The sociological model
• The social-psychological
• The rational choice model
• Developed in 1940’s @ Columbia
University after “consumer preference”
theory went bust.
• “Consumer Preference” theory was a
bust because they found people made up
their minds well in advance of
• Alternative theory: sociological variables –
characteristics of groups – strongly
correlated with vote choice.
• SM uses group-level characteristics to
explain how people vote.
• Socio-economic status (SES)
• Place of Residence
• Higher incomes, more formal education.
• Very young unlikely to vote.
• Unemployed have a very low rate of
• Latinos have especially low turnout rate,
but it is increasing.
• Crucial factor in voter turnout is level of
formal education - could be a proxy for
Problems with the
• Certain group differences still associated
with voter choice, but SM can’t explain
• Group behaviors have changed over time.
• Model based on small-n research sample,
larger sample studies had difﬁculty with
Explains vote choice not as product
of group characteristics but of
Rational Choice Model
• The decision to show up & vote, particular
choices made in polling booth = products of
• Individuals will vote if beneﬁts of voting
• Individuals will vote for candidates closest
to their beliefs on issues.
• Information Costs – what does it cost in
time, money, effort to be informed.
• People will be informed if beneﬁts
outweigh the costs.
• Often cost outweighs beneﬁts.
• Take into account beneﬁts of voting
• Expected beneﬁts = beneﬁts X probability
of affecting the outcome of the vote
• Heuristics – “cognitive shortcuts”
• People don’t need a lot of information to
make reasonable voting decisions.
• Toilet Paper
• Gladwell’s Blink
• Too much information adds to costs
• Heuristics like Party ID proven to allow
people to make reasonable decisions.
• Can lead to errors: non-optimal decisions vs.
• Information can make a difference
• Rational for individuals to be uninformed, but
collectively this is irrational.
• Ignores costs at the collective level
• More informed public = more accountable elites
• Uninformed public susceptible to manipulation.
Rational Choice Model
• Theory is a poor match with reality:
Indications are that Americans are poorly
informed about politics.
• Michigan Model continues to provide the
most accepted explanations of voting