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Correct Voting Across Thirty-Three Democracies: A Preliminary Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2013

Abstract

This article extends Lau and Redlawsk's notion of correct voting – whether voters, under conditions of uncertainty, choose the alternative they would have chosen had they been fully informed about the issues and candidates in that election – to sixty-nine elections in thirty-three established and emerging democracies around the world. At the individual level, political sophistication, political experience and motivation all significantly predict the probability of casting a correct vote. However several institutional factors proved to be even more important. In particular, elections with more parties running – and settings that encourage candidate-centred voting – decrease the probability of correct voting, while more ideologically distinctive alternatives, clearer lines of responsibility and greater media access to information are associated with higher rates of correct voting.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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Footnotes

*

Political Science Department, Rutgers University (email: ricklau@rci.rutgers.edu); Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; Political Science Department, Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus; Department of Political Science, Rutgers University. We thank especially Bill Clark, Andy Murphy and Al Tillery for commenting on earlier versions of this manuscript, along with various audience members and discussants at the Midwest Political Science Association, and at Florida State, Oxford, Princeton and Rutgers Universities, where earlier versions of this article were presented. All syntax commands to create the datasets utilized in this paper from the CSES datafiles, along with replication datasets, are available at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S0007123412000610. An online appendix is available at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S0007123412000610.

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We should note that there is a controversy within comparative politics about whether party identification should be included as a predictor of the vote choice in countries other than the United States. If party ID does not belong on the right-hand side of a vote choice equation, it surely should not be used to help determine a correct vote choice. There is simply no consensus within the field on this question, although a survey of the recent comparative voting behaviour literature [details available from the authors upon request] reveals a definite preference for including it. Given that we do not have many alternatives available in the CSES data, we have come down on the ‘include it’ side of the debate, but flag this question as another topic for future research.

39 ‘Major’ is defined by the local experts who conducted the surveys. If survey questions were asked about a candidate/party contesting the election, we included that candidate/party in our analysis. Respondents who voted for other ‘minor’ parties are treated as missing, as are non-voters.

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41 If there was ever a tie, voting for any of the most highly ranked parties was considered correct. All syntax commands required to operationalize correct voting from the CSES Module 1 and Module 2 data, and smaller election-specific data files indicating the calculated correct choice for each voter in each of the sixty-nine elections considered here, are available from http://fas-polisci.rutgers.edu/lau/. This website will also make available the HLM “MDM” (system) file and the command file necessary to replicate the analysis reported in the manuscript.

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43 Our best guess as to why the smaller CSES measure tends to overestimate levels of correct voting is because it is based entirely on three fairly simple and very prominent considerations of correctness that most voters are likely to ‘get right’. A more complex measure includes a much richer set of considerations, but also ones that many voters are likely to ‘get wrong’ (where right and wrong are determined by expert judgements), which would, if our speculations are right, reduce mean levels of correct voting.

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46 Strictly speaking, we have a three-level hierarchical model, with individuals embedded within elections that are in turn embedded within countries. It is conventional to treat such analyses as two-level models, however, which for simplicity we do here. The basic results do not change if the model is specified as three levels. Eight of those elections (Albania in 2005, Germany in 1998 and 2002, Hungary in 1998 and 2002, Japan in 1996, New Zealand in 1996 and 2002) involve countries with mixed electoral systems in which citizens have two votes that help determine the head of state, one in a single-member district (SMD) and one in a multi-member district (MMD). As electoral incentives are quite different in these two types of elections, and the CSES recorded votes in both of them, we randomly divided survey respondents from those countries into two separate groups (proportional to the number of seats being selected in each type of election) and included both elections in our analysis. We also had data on two successive votes from citizens in three countries (Brazil in 2002, France in 2002 and Romania in 2004) that employ two-round majority vote electoral systems. Again, because the incentives voters face in these two types of elections vary greatly, we randomly divided voters into two groups and include both rounds of elections in our analysis.

47 Lau, Andersen and Redlawsk, ‘An Exploration of Correct Voting in Recent US Presidential Elections’.

48 Cox, Making Votes Count.

49 Thomas Gschwend, ‘Comparative Politics of Strategic Voting: A Hierarchy of Electoral Systems’, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Ill., 20–23 April 2006; Thomas Gschwend, ‘District Magnitude and the Comparative Study of Strategic Voting,’ in Klingemann, ed., The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems.

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54 Holmberg, Soren, ‘Candidate Recognition in Different Electoral Systems’, in Klingemann, ed., The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, p. 168Google Scholar

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