Sociotropes, Systematic Bias, and Political Failure: Reflections on the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy

Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 2, pp. 416-435, June 2002

Posted: 23 Apr 2005

See all articles by Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan

George Mason University - Center for Study of Public Choice; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Abstract

Objectives. Economic models of politics typically make two assumptions about voters: First, their motives are egocentric, not sociotropic; second, their beliefs are rational, not subject to systematic bias. Political scientists have presented strong evidence against the first assumption (Mansbridge 1990), but have become increasingly willing to accept the second. (Page and Shapiro 1992; Marcus and Hanson 1993) This paper tests these two assumptions, then explores the tests' broader implications.

Methods. I use the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy to test for egocentricity of motivation and rationality of belief. Results. Both standard assumptions fail for the case where the economic approach would seemingly be most relevant: economic beliefs.

Conclusions. This is not necessarily cause for greater optimism about the efficiency of democracy: Sociotropic voters with biased economic beliefs are more likely to produce severe political failures than are selfish voters with rational expectations.

Keywords: Sociotropic voting, systematic bias, political failure

JEL Classification: D71, D73, D84

Suggested Citation

Caplan, Bryan, Sociotropes, Systematic Bias, and Political Failure: Reflections on the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy. Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 2, pp. 416-435, June 2002, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=704583

Bryan Caplan (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Center for Study of Public Choice ( email )

Fairfax, VA 22030
United States
703-993-2324 (Phone)
703-993-2323 (Fax)

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

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Arlington, VA 22201
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