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Voter Decision-Making with Polarized Choices

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2016


In 1950, members of the American Political Science Association’s Committee on Political Parties argued that voters could exercise greater control over government if the two major political parties adopted clear and ideologically distinct policy platforms. In 2015, partisan polarization is a defining feature of American politics and extreme parties have maintained support elsewhere. This article investigates voter decision-making with ideologically divergent electoral choices and argues that ideological conflict reduces citizens’ responsiveness to candidates’ ideological locations by increasing the role of motivated reasoning in political decision-making. Results from two observational studies and a survey experiment support this account, and the findings are robust across a range of models. These results have important implications for accountability and democratic decision-making in an age of partisan polarization.

© Cambridge University Press 2016 

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Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis ( Project Vote Smart, the Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, and Boris Shor provided data used for a portion of this project. The experimental study was generously funded by the Time-Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS), NSF Grant 0818839, Jeremy Freese and James Druckman, Principal Investigators. The author is grateful to Betsy Sinclair, the TESS PIs, and two anonymous reviewers for feedback on the survey experiment. He also thanks Jim Adams, Walt Stone, Margit Tavits, participants in the American politics seminar at UC-Davis, four anonymous reviewers, and the Editor of this Journal for thoughtful comments and helpful suggestions. Replication data available at : A supplementary online appendix available at: 10.1017/S0007123415000630



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Rogowski Dataset

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