Voting and Elections


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Presentation prepared for a series of lectures on Voting and Elections for PS 101 American Government at the University of Kentucky, Spring 2007. Dr. Christopher S. Rice, Instructor.

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Voting and Elections

  1. 1. Voting and Elections Dr. Christopher S. Rice University of Kentucky
  2. 2. Would you support a female candidate for president? <ul><li>Yes </li></ul><ul><li>No </li></ul><ul><li>Maybe </li></ul>
  3. 4. How Two-Party Elections Can Lead to Democracy <ul><li>Three Theories: </li></ul><ul><li>Responsible-party government </li></ul><ul><li>Electoral Competition </li></ul><ul><li>Retrospective Voting/Electoral Reward and Punishment </li></ul>
  4. 5. Responsible-party Government <ul><li>Based on idea of elections providing a real choice or alternative. </li></ul><ul><li>Assumptions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Each of two parties is cohesive and unified </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Each party takes a clear policy position that differentiates the two </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Citizens accurately perceive these positions, vote on the basis of them </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Winning party will follow through on their promises </li></ul></ul>
  5. 6. Responsible-party Government <ul><li>Evaluation: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Doesn’t guarantee popular sovereignty or political equality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Doesn’t guarantee winning party will take popular policy positions – just the least un popular. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Parties are NOT unified or cohesive, don’t always take clear stands on issues. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Voters do not vote solely on the issues </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Parties don’t always keep their promises. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 7. Electoral Competition <ul><li>Both parties should compete for votes by taking the most popular positions they can. </li></ul>
  7. 8. 68% 95% Electoral Competition Theory Democrat Republican
  8. 9. Electoral Competition <ul><li>Assumptions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Two parties take clear, unified stands on issues. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Citizens vote based on issues. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Parties do what they promised. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 10. Electoral Competition <ul><li>Problems: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Both parties likely to support the same policies: those most favored by voters. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Parties will tend to take policy stands near midpoint of public opinion </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Doesn’t promise the parties will educate or mobilize voters </li></ul></ul>
  10. 11. Electoral Competition <ul><li>Evaluation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ensures democratic control only if parties are unified and take clear stands </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The need to raise campaign funds could endanger concept of democracy. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For democracy to work, voters have to: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Vote only on issues + know positions taken by parties </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Neither of these is likely </li></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 12. Electoral Competition <ul><li>Evaluation (cont’d) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Conditions close enough to the truth to tell us something about the reality of elections. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>EC one reason why government policy influenced by popular opinion. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Look at how elections deviate from theoretical ideal to see how elections might be improved as instruments of democracy. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  12. 13. Retrospective Voting <ul><li>People vote for incumbents when times are good, against them when times are bad. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Each election, retrospective judgments about how incumbent officials have done in the past . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Parties compete by emphasizing competence, way they reflect public’s goals, NOT by taking specific policy stands. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 14. Retrospective Voting <ul><li>Voters don’t bother to form preferences on complex issues – just voting on past performance. </li></ul><ul><li>Politicians have strong incentives to solve problems people want solved. </li></ul>
  14. 15. Retrospective Voting <ul><li>Evaluation </li></ul><ul><li>Simplicity – requires very little of voters. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Allows voters to focus only on most crucial issues </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Relies on selfishness of politicians not altruism. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Problem: may encourage politicians to produce deceptively happy results just before an election. </li></ul></ul>
  15. 16. Retrospective Voting <ul><li>Evaluation(cont’d) </li></ul><ul><li>Allows time for deliberation, experimental/unpopular policies </li></ul><ul><ul><li>as long as results work out well, please public before next election </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Problem: gets rid of bad political leaders only after disasters happen, no guarantee next group will do any better . </li></ul>
  16. 17. The model of voting behavior which states that an individual's vote is a factor of their attachment to the political party and their opinion about the candidates and issues is known as: <ul><li>the social-psychological model. </li></ul><ul><li>the sociological model. </li></ul><ul><li>the rational choice model. </li></ul><ul><li>the party/opinion model. </li></ul>
  17. 18. The model of voting behavior which states that the decision to vote is based on the logical calculations of costs and benefits is known as: <ul><li>the social-psychological model. </li></ul><ul><li>the sociological model. </li></ul><ul><li>the cost-benefit model. </li></ul><ul><li>the rational choice model. </li></ul>
  18. 19. Models of Voting Behavior <ul><li>Three theories of vote choice have emerged in an </li></ul><ul><li>attempt to explain why people vote as they do: </li></ul><ul><li>The sociological model </li></ul><ul><li>The social-psychological model </li></ul><ul><li>The rational choice model </li></ul>
  19. 20. Sociological (Columbia) Model <ul><li>Developed in 1940’s @ Columbia University after “consumer preference” theory went bust. </li></ul><ul><li>“Consumer Preference” theory was a bust because they found people made up their minds well in advance of advertising campaigns. </li></ul>
  20. 21. Sociological (Columbia) Model <ul><li>Alternative theory: sociological variables – characteristics of groups – strongly correlated with vote choice. </li></ul><ul><li>SM uses group-level characteristics to explain how people vote. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Socio-economic status (SES) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Religion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Place of Residence </li></ul></ul>
  21. 22. Who votes? <ul><li>Higher incomes, more formal education. </li></ul><ul><li>Very young unlikely to vote. </li></ul><ul><li>Unemployed have a very low rate of turnout. </li></ul><ul><li>Latinos have especially low turnout rate, but it is increasing. </li></ul><ul><li>Crucial factor in voter turnout is level of formal education - could be a proxy for income. </li></ul>
  22. 27. Problems with the Sociological Model <ul><li>Certain group differences still associated with voter choice, but SM can’t explain WHY. </li></ul><ul><li>Groups behaviors have changed over time. </li></ul><ul><li>Model based on small-n research sample, larger sample studies had difficulty with replication. </li></ul>
  23. 28. Socio-Psychological Model <ul><li>aka, Michigan Model. </li></ul><ul><li>Developed late-1940’s. </li></ul><ul><li>Explains vote choice not as product of group characteristics but of individual attitudes. </li></ul>
  24. 29. Which candidate quality would matter most in deciding your vote for president? <ul><li>Leadership ability/good prior experience </li></ul><ul><li>Willing to bring about needed change </li></ul><ul><li>Cares about people like me </li></ul><ul><li>Has strong personal character </li></ul><ul><li>Has the best plan for the country </li></ul>
  25. 30. Vote Choice Criteria <ul><li>Issue Voting </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Prospective Voting (Issues) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Retrospective Voting (Performance) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Party ID </li></ul><ul><li>Candidate Image </li></ul>
  26. 31. Things to know <ul><li>Decision Rule </li></ul><ul><li>Information Required </li></ul><ul><li>Voter Rationality </li></ul><ul><li>Elite Accountability </li></ul><ul><li>Problems </li></ul>
  27. 32. Prospective Voting (Issues) <ul><li>Decision Rule: Vote for candidate closer to own position on the issue(s) </li></ul><ul><li>Info Required: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Have opinion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Know candidates’ opinions on the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Care about the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>See difference between candidates on issue </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Voter Rationality: Very Rational </li></ul>
  28. 33. Prospective Voting (Issues) <ul><li>Elite Accountability: HIGH </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Elites know what majority of voter prefer (party platform) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Know they’ll be thrown out if they don’t follow through </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Possibility of a mandate </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Problems </li></ul><ul><ul><li>High information costs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Candidates don’t often take clear, divergent positions on the issues </li></ul></ul>
  29. 34. Retrospective Voting (Performance Evaluations) <ul><li>Decision Rule: Vote for candidate or party based on their past performance. </li></ul><ul><li>Info Required: Rough assessment of whether economy, security, etc., has gotten better or worse under incumbent. </li></ul><ul><li>Voter Rationality: FAIRLY rational </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Performance info more accessible, reliable than issue information </li></ul></ul>
  30. 35. Retrospective Voting (Performance Evaluations) <ul><li>Elite Accountability: Reasonable. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Elites must maintain good performance. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>OTOH, candidates can ignore voters’ preferences as long as they produce results voters want. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Problems: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Hard to figure out responsibility in a divided government. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hard to figure out how well economy, security doing based on candidates’ claims, media coverage, short term performance assessments, election-year “tricks”. </li></ul></ul>
  31. 36. How rational do you believe voting on the basis of a candidate’s party affiliation to be? <ul><li>Very rational </li></ul><ul><li>Somewhat rational </li></ul><ul><li>Not very rational </li></ul><ul><li>Not at all rational </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t know.don’t care </li></ul>
  32. 37. Party ID <ul><li>Revisionists say this is an irrational criterion. </li></ul><ul><li>Decision Rule: Vote for candidate with same party affiliation as you. </li></ul><ul><li>Info Required: Only candidate’s party affiliation. </li></ul><ul><li>Voter Rationality: Rational IF used to infer candidate’s ideology, traditional party stands, performance on issues. </li></ul>
  33. 38. Party ID <ul><li>Elite Accountability: Some – if candidates know voters share their party’s “philosophy of government”, which they try to translate into public policy. </li></ul><ul><li>Problems: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not all candidates share their party’s philosophy on all (or most) issues. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Party philosophy can be vague. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Voters can end up voting for “wrong” candidate </li></ul></ul>
  34. 39. Candidate Image <ul><li>Revisionists say this is an irrational criterion. </li></ul><ul><li>Decision Rule: Vote for candidate with better, more desirable personal characteristics. </li></ul><ul><li>Info Required: Some assessment of candidates’ personalities. </li></ul><ul><li>Voter Rationality: Rational IF rely on traits to predict how candidate will govern, respond to unanticipated events. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Trust, competence and strength vs. looks and style </li></ul></ul>
  35. 40. Candidate Image <ul><li>Elite Accountability: LOW </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Must trust candidate with the “right stuff” to do the right thing in office. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Problems: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Think we can size up a candidate’s personality, but candidates do their best to portray selves in a favorable light in controlled, rehearsed settings. </li></ul></ul>
  36. 41. Rational Choice Model <ul><li>Argues that decision to show up & vote, particular choices made in polling booth = products of rational calculation. </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals will vote if the benefits of voting outweigh the costs. </li></ul><ul><li>Individuals will vote for candidates closest to their beliefs on issues. </li></ul>
  37. 42. Voter Rationality <ul><li>Revisionist Dem. </li></ul><ul><li>Low Information </li></ul><ul><li>Unstable Views </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of Opinions </li></ul><ul><li>Representative Dem. </li></ul><ul><li>How prevalent is low information? </li></ul><ul><li>Rational Ignorance </li></ul><ul><li>Heuristics </li></ul>
  38. 43. Anthony Downs (Voter Rationality) <ul><li>Information Costs – what does it cost in time, money, effort to be informed. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>People will be informed if benefits outweigh the costs. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Downs – often the cost outweighs the benefits. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Take into account benefits of voting </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Expected benefits = benefits X probability of affecting the outcome of the vote </li></ul></ul>
  39. 44. Voter Rationality <ul><li>Heuristics – “cognitive shortcuts” </li></ul><ul><li>People don’t need a lot of information to make reasonable voting decisions. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Toilet Paper </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gladwell’s Blink </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Too much information adds to costs </li></ul><ul><li>Heuristics like Party ID proven to allow people to make reasonable decisions. </li></ul>
  40. 45. Voter Rationality <ul><li>Problems with heuristics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Can lead to errors: non-optimal decisions vs. “reasonable” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Information can make a difference </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rational for individuals to be uninformed, but collectively this is irrational . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Ignores costs at the collective level </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>More informed public = more accountable elites </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Uninformed public susceptible to manipulation. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  41. 46. Rational Choice Model <ul><li>Problems: </li></ul><ul><li>Theory is a poor match with reality. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Indications are that Americans are poorly informed about politics. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Michigan Model continues to provide the most accepted explanations of voting behavior. </li></ul>