The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Do Voters Care About Candidates’ Policy Decisions?

Thu, April 16, 2009

Stephen Jessee’s first publication has appeared in the discipline’s flagship journal, the American Political Science Review. “Spatial Voting in the 2004 Presidential Election,” published in February, presents a new survey design that allowed Jessee to test certain theories of voting behavior with more precision than previously available research.

Jessee found that under certain circumstances, the assumptions underlying the spatial theory of voting hold with near statistical perfection. Independent voters – voters who do not profess allegiance to one political party or another – prefer the candidate whose policy decisions most accurately reflect their policy preferences. And, vote choice is a toss-up when two candidates equally represent, or equally fail to represent, independent voters’ policy preferences.

Conversely, party identifiers – voters allegiant to a specific political party – prefer the candidate of that party, independent of the candidate’s policy decisions. However, voters still reject candidates from the party they identify with if a candidate’s policy decisions deviate too far from the voters’ policy preferences. Indeed, as citizens become more informed, party identification exerts less influence on vote choice, and the proximity of candidates’ policy decisions to voters’ policy preferences exerts more influence.

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