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
Date Written: 2012
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
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