Expressive vs. Pivotal Voters: An Empirical Assessment

61 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2012 Last revised: 20 May 2017

Date Written: May 2017


Understanding voter behavior is a matter of first-order importance. Yet, leading theories of how voters choose between candidates are rooted in two very different paradigms, with starkly different behavioral implications. Exploiting the incentive structure of Germany's electoral system, we develop a novel set of empirical tests that pit the canonical pivotal voter model against alternative accounts according to which individuals derive expressive utility from supporting their most preferred candidate. The results show that neither paradigm can explain the most-salient features of the data. To rationalize the evidence, we outline a hybrid theory in which instrumentally rational voters are subject to a "sincerity bias."

Keywords: expressive voting, strategic voting,voter behavior

JEL Classification: D7, D3, D71, D72, P16

Suggested Citation

Spenkuch, Jörg L., Expressive vs. Pivotal Voters: An Empirical Assessment (May 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Jörg L. Spenkuch (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences (MEDS) ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States


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