Lost in Space? Shortcuts and Spatial Voting in Low-Information Elections
48 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2013
Date Written: March 12, 2013
Voters face difficult choices in low-information local elections. Despite the concerns this raises for voter competence, there are virtually no studies of whether and when voters are able to choose candidates who best represent them ideologically in these contexts. We fill this gap by creating same-scale measures of candidate and voter ideology during a local election and examining how candidate ideology affects voters’ decisions. We also conduct an exit poll in which we experimentally manipulate cues and examine their effects on voters’ candidate preferences. Our results show that the ideological proximity of candidates has large effects on voters’ decisions. However, exposing voters to endorsements made by political parties and newspapers with ideological reputations diminishes, rather than enhances, voters’ propensity to prefer ideologically-similar candidates. These results challenge the notion that local elections are non-ideological and that citizens who have access to cues make “better” decisions than those who do not.
Keywords: voting, voter decision-making, spatial voting, ideology, IRT, Bayesian, experiment, information, cues, heuristics, endorsements, political parties, party identification, newspapers, municipal elections, low-information elections, local government
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