Substituting the End for the Whole: Why Voters Respond Primarily to the Election-Year Economy

43 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 9 Oct 2012

Andrew Healy

Loyola Marymount University

Gabriel S. Lenz

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2012

Abstract

According to numerous studies, the election-year economy influences presidential election results far more than cumulative growth throughout the term. Here we describe a series of surveys and experiments that point to an intriguing explanation for voter behavior that runs contrary to the standard explanations political science has offered, but one that accords with a large psychological literature. Voters, we find, actually intend to judge presidents on cumulative growth. However, since that characteristic is not readily available to them, voters inadvertently substitute election-year performance because it is more easily accessible. This “end-heuristic” explanation for voters’ election-year emphasis reflects a general tendency for people to simplify retrospective assessments by substituting conditions at the end for the whole. The end heuristic explanation also suggests a remedy, a way to align voters’ actions with their intentions. Providing people with the attribute they are seeking — cumulative growth — eliminates the election-year emphasis.

Keywords: economy, retrospective voting, recency bias, attribute substitution, peak-end rule

Suggested Citation

Healy, Andrew and Lenz, Gabriel S., Substituting the End for the Whole: Why Voters Respond Primarily to the Election-Year Economy (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2108085

Andrew J. Healy

Loyola Marymount University ( email )

7900 Loyola Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045-8350
United States

Gabriel S. Lenz (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

HOME PAGE: http://polisci.berkeley.edu/people/faculty/person_detail.php?person=378

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