Skip to main content

Spatial Voting in the 2004 Presidential Election


The theory of spatial voting has played a large role in the development of important results across many areas of political science. Directly testing the foundational assumptions of spatial voting theory, however, has not been possible with existing data. Using a novel survey design, this article obtains estimates of voter ideology on the same scale as candidate positions. The results of this scaling demonstrate that voters possess meaningful ideologies and, furthermore, that these beliefs are strongly related to the sorts of policy proposals considered in Congress. These ideology estimates are then used to uncover the actual relationships between ideology and vote choice for citizens of various types in the 2004 presidential election. Although the choices of independent voters are shown to be largely consistent with the assumptions of spatial voting theory, the decision rules used by partisans differ strongly from what unbiased spatial voting would imply. Although partisans do converge toward the behavior of independents, and hence toward the assumptions of spatial voting theory, as information levels increase, we see that even highly informed partisans show significant differences from what would be implied by unbiased spatial voting theory.

Corresponding author
Stephen A. Jessee is Assistant Professor, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station A1800, Austin, TX 78712 (
Hide All
Achen, Christopher H. 1992. “Social Psychology, Demographic Variables, and Linear Regression: Breaking the Iron Triangle in Voting Research.Political Behavior 14 (3): 195211.
Adams, James F. 1999. “Multicandidate Spatial Competition with Probabilistic Voting.Public Choice 100: 103–22.
Adams, James F. 2001. “A Theory of Spatial Competition with Biased Voters: Party Policies Viewed Temporally and Comparatively.British Journal of Political Science 31: 121–58.
Adams, James F., Merrill, Samuel III, and Grofman, Bernard. 2005. A Unified Theory of Party Competition. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Alvarez, Michael R., and Nagler, Jonathan. 1995. “Economics, Issues and the Perot Candidacy: Voter Choice in the 1992 Presidential Election.American Journal of Political Science 39: 714–44.
Ansolabehere, Stephen, Rodden, Jonathan, and Snyder, James M.. 2008. “The Strength of Issues: Using Multiple Measures to Gauge Preference Stability, Ideological Constraint, and Issue Voting.American Political Science Review 102: 215–32.
Ansolabehere, Stephen, and Snyder, James M.. 2000. “Valence Politics and Equilibrium in Spatial Elections Models.Public Choice 103: 327–36.
Bailey, Michael A. 2007. “Comparable Preference Estimates Across Time and Institutions for the Courts, Congress, and Presidency.American Journal of Political Science 51 (3): 433–48.
Baker, Frank B. 1992. Item Response Theory. New York: Marcel Dekker.
Black, Duncan. 1948. “On the Rationale of Group Decision-Making.” The Journal of Political Economy 56: 23.
Brody, Richard A., and Page, Benjamin I.. 1972. “Comment: The Assessment of Policy Voting.American Political Science Review 66 (2): 450–8.
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Warren E., Miller, Phillip E., and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. “The American Voter. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Carmines, Edward G., and Stimson, James A.. 1980. “The Two Faces of Issue Voting.American Political Science Review 74: 7891.
Carsey, Thomas M., and Layman, Geoffrey C.. 2006. “Changing Sides or Changing Minds? Party Identification and Policy Preferences in the American Electorate.American Journal of Political Science 50 (2): 464–77.
Chapman, David. 1967. “Models of the Working of a Two-Party Electoral System—i.Public Choice 3: 1937.
Chapman, David. 1968. “Models of the Working of a Two-Party Electoral System—ii.Public Choice 5: 1937.
Clinton, Joshua, Jackman, Simon, and Rivers, Douglas. 2004. “The Statistical Analysis of Roll Call Data: A Unified Approach.American Political Science Review 98: 355–70.
Converse, Philip E. 1964. “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.” In Ideology and Discontent, ed. Aptar, David E.. New York: Free Press.
Davis, Otto A., Hinich, Melvin J., and Ordeshook, Peter C.. 1970. “An Expository Development of a Mathematical Model of the Electoral Process.American Political Science Review 64 (2): 426–48.
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: HarperCollins.
Enelow, James, and Hinich, Melvin J.. 1984. The Spatial Theory of Voting: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Erikson, Robert S., and Romero, David. 1990. “Candidate Equilibrium and the Behavioral Model of the Voter.American Political Science Review 84: 1103–26.
Erikson, Robert S., and Tedin, Kent. 2007. American Public Opinion: Its Origin, Content and Impact. 7th ed.New York: Wiley.
Fiorina, Morris P. 1981. Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Gerring, John. 1997. “Ideology: A Definitional Analysis.Political Research Quarterly 50: 957–94.
Groseclose, Timothy. 2001. “A Model of Candidate Location when one Candidate has a Valence Advantage.American Journal of Political Science 45: 862–86.
Heckman, James J., and Snyder, James M.. 1997. “Linear Probability Models of the Demand for Attributes with an Empirical Application to Estimating the Preferences of Legislators.RAND Journal of Economics 28: 142–89.
Hinich, Melvin J., and Munger, Michael. 1994. Ideology and the Theory of Political Choice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Hotelling, Harold. 1929. “Stability in Competition.” The Economic Journal XXXIX: 4157.
Jackman, Simon D. 2004. “Bayesian Analysis for Political Research.Annual Reviews of Political Science 7: 483505.
Jessee, Stephen A., and Rivers, Douglas. 2008. “Voter Perceptions of Legislator Positions.” Working paper.
Jost, John T. 2006. “The End of the End of Ideology.American Psychologist 61 (7): 651–70.
Knight, Kathleen. 1985. “Ideology in the 1980 Election: Ideological Sophistication does Matter.Journal of Politics 47: 828–53.
Lau, Richard R., and Redlawsk, David P.. 1997. “Voting Correctly.American Political Science Review 91: 585–98.
Lazarsfeld, Paul F., Berelson, Bernard, and Gaudet, Hazel. 1952. The People's Choice. Columbia University Press.
Lin, Tse-min, Enelow, James M., and Dorussen, Han. 1999. “Equilibrium in Multiparty Probabilistic Spatial Voting.Public Choice 98: 5982.
Lodge, Milton, and Taber, Charles S.. 2000. “Three Steps Toward a Theory of Motivated Political Reasoning.” In Elements of Reason: Understanding and Expanding the Limits of Rationality 183213. Cambridge University Press.
Luskin, Robert, and Bullock, John. 2008. “Don't Know' Means ‘Don't Know’: Dk Responses and the Public's Level of Political Knowledge.” Working paper.
Malhotra, Neil M., and Krosnick, John A.. 2007. The Effect of Survey Mode and Sampling on Inferences about Political Attitudes and Behavior: Comparing the 2000 and 2004 ANES to Internet Surveys with Nonprobability Samples. Political Analysis 15 (3): 286.
Markus, Gregory A., and Converse, Philip E.. 1979. “A Dynamic Simultaneous Equation Model of Electoral Choice.American Political Science Review 73: 1055–70.
Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald E.. 1963. “Constituency Influence in Congress.American Political Science Review 57 (1): 4556.
Mondak, Jeffrey J. 1999. “Reconsidering the Measurement of Political Knowledge.” Political Analysis 8 (1): 57.
Mondak, Jeffrey J. 2001. “Developing Valid Knowledge Scales.American Journal of Political Science 45 (1): 224–38.
Persson, Torsten, and Tabellini, Guido. 2000. Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 1997. Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sanders, David, Clarke, Harold D., Stewart, Marrianne C., and Whiteley, Paul. 2007. “Does Mode Matter for Modeling Political Choice? Evidence from the 2005 British Election Study.” Political Analysis 15 (3): 257.
Schofield, Norman. 2002. “Existence of a General Political Equilibrium.” Unpublished manuscript.
Schofield, Norman, Martin, Andrew, Quinn, Kevin, and Whitford, Andrew. 2004. “Equilibrium in the Spatial ‘valence’ Model of Politics.Journal of Theoretical Politics 16: 447–81.
Sigelman, Lee, and Tsai, Yung-Mei. 1981. “Personal Finances and Voting Behavior: A Reanalysis.” American Politics Research 9 (4): 371.
Spiegelhalter, David J., Thomas, Andrew, and Best, Nickey G.. 1999. WinBUGS Version 1.4. Cambridge: MRC Biostatistics Unit.
Stokes, Donald E. 1963. “Spatial Models of Party Competition.American Political Science Review 57: 368–77.
Sturgis, Patrick, Allum, Nick, and Smith, Patten. 2008. “An Experiment on the Measurement of Political Knowledge in Surveys.Public Opinion Quarterly 85 (1): 90102.
Tomz, Michael, and Van Houweling, Robert P.. 2008. “Positioning and Voter Choice.American Political Science Review 102 (2): 303–18.
Van, Houweling, Robert, P., and Sniderman, Paul M.. 2007. “The Political Logic of a Downsian Space.” Working paper.
Zaller, John. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed