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Correct Voting Across Thirty-Three Democracies: A Preliminary Analysis

  • Richard R. Lau, Parina Patel, Dalia F. Fahmy and Robert R. Kaufman

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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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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6 Lau, Richard R. and Redlawsk, David P., ‘Voting Correctly’, American Political Science Review, 91 (1997), 585–599

7 Lau and Redlawsk, ‘Voting Correctly’; Richard R. Lau and David P. Redlawsk, How Voters Decide: Information Processing During Election Campaigns (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Lau, Richard R., Andersen, David J. and Redlawsk, David P., ‘An Exploration of Correct Voting in Recent US Presidential Elections’, American Journal of Political Science, 52 (2008), 395411

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11 Excluding personal concerns would therefore also exclude clientelistic bargains or patronage: voting for a candidate because s/he arranged for me to get a government job, a food basket, etc. We note that such bargains, in addition to being purely idiosyncratic and personal, also involve a good deal of coercion – the threat of withdrawing a benefit if you don't vote the right way – and therefore are not necessarily what the voter would have chosen if s/he had been fully free to exercise the franchise.

12 Alvarez, R. Michael and Nagler, Jonathan, ‘A New Approach for Modelling Strategic Voting in Multiparty Elections’, British Journal of Political Science, 30 (2000), 5775

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13 Payne, John W., Bettman, James R. and Johnson, Eric J., The Adaptive Decision Maker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

14 Lau and Redlawsk, How Voters Decide; Lau, Andersen and Redlawsk, ‘An Exploration of Correct Voting in Recent US Presidential Elections’.

15 Chase, William G. and Simon, Herbert A., ‘Perception in Chess’, Cognitive Psychology, 4 (1973), 5581

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16 Political knowledge is measured by the proportion of correct answers to 2–5 objective political knowledge questions asked in most surveys. The questions differ across countries, of course, as do their number and difficulty, and of all the concepts measured in the CSES, it is hardest to make the case for comparability across elections with the political knowledge scale. Moreover, no political knowledge questions were asked at all in about 10 per cent of the surveys. Years of education is available from all surveys, however. We recoded each of these variables to have a 1-point range, and then combined them into a summary measure of Political Sophistication, which is meant to reflect some combination of domain-specific expertise and more general cognitive ability. When no political knowledge questions were asked in a survey, the scale is determined entirely by years of education. To make this variable as comparable as possible across elections, it is centred within and election before being included in the analysis. Thus any mean differences across elections in this variable will not affect aggregate-level estimates of correct voting.

17 Freund, Alexandra M. and Baltes, Paul B., ‘Selection, Optimization, and Compensation as Strategies of Life Management: Correlations with Subjective Indicators of Successful Aging’, Psychology and Aging, 13 (1998), 531543

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18 Abelson, Robert P. and Levi, Ariel, ‘Decision Making and Decision Theory’, in Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson, eds, Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 1, 3rd edition (New York: Random House, 1985), pp. 231–309

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

20 Carey, John and Shugart, Matthew S., ‘Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote’, Electoral Studies, 14 (1995), 417439

21 Carey and Shugart, ‘Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote’.

22 Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State (New York: Wiley, 1954)

23 Rae, Douglas, Political Consequences of Electoral Laws (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971)

24 See Hans-Dieter Klingemann, ‘The Impact of Political Institutions: A Contribution of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) to Micro-Macro Theories of Political Attitude Formation and Voting Behaviour’, in Klingemann, ed., The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, and Dalton and Anderson, ‘Citizens, Context, and Choice’ in Dalton and Anderson, eds, Citizens, Context, and Choice for many recent examples.

25 Abelson and Levi, ‘Decision Making and Decision Theory’; Payne, Bettman and Johnson, ‘Adaptive Strategy Selection in Decision Making’.

26 For example, Best and McDonald, ‘The Role of Party Policy Positions in the Operation of Democracy’; Hans-Deter Klingemann and Bernhard Wessels, ‘How Voters Cope with the Complexity of Their Political Environment: Differentiation of Political Supply, Effectiveness of Electoral Institutions, and the Calculus of Voting’, in Klingemann, ed., The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems; Martin Kroh, ‘The Ease of Ideological Voting: Voter Sophistication and Party System Complexity’, in Klingemann, ed., The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems.

27 Lau and Redlawsk, How Voters Decide; Lau, Andersen and Redlawsk, ‘An Exploration of Correct Voting in Recent US Presidential Elections’.

28 Markku Laakso and Rein Taagepera, “'Effective” Number of Parties: A Measure with Application to Western Europe’, Comparative Political Studies, 12 (1979), 3–27

29 Dalton, Russell J., ‘The Quantity and Quality of Party Systems’, Comparative Political Studies, 41 (2008), 899920

30 Dalton, ‘The Quantity and Quality of Party Systems’.

31 Shugart, Matthew and Carey, John, Presidents and Assemblies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Bingham G. Powell, Jr., Elections as Instruments of Democracy (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000)

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

33 Duch, Raymond M. and Stevenson, Randolph T., The Economic Vote: How Political and Economic Institutions Condition Election Results (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Fiorina, Morris P., Retrospective Voting in American National Elections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981)

Valdimer O. Key Jr., The Responsible Electorate: Rationality in Presidential Voting 1936–1960 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966)

Lewis-Beck, Michael, Economics and Elections: The Major Western Democracies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988)

34 Listhaug, Ola, MacDonald, Stuart E. and Rabinowitz, George, ‘Ideology and Party Support in Comparative Perspective’, European Journal of Political Research, 25 (1994), 111149

35 Barnes, Samuel H., Jennings, M. Kent, Inglehart, Ronald and Farah, B., ‘Party Identification and Party Closeness in Comparative Perspective’, Political Behavior, 10 (1988), 215231

Dalton, Russell J., Wattenberg, Martin and McAllister, Ian, ‘Consequences of Partisan Dealignment’, in Russell J. Dalton and Martin Wattenberg, eds, Parties Without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)

36 In the preliminary analysis we included a dummy variable representing the difference between Module 1 and Module 2 surveys. This dummy variable represents both time (Module 1 included elections occurring between 1996 and 2000, Module 2 covered elections occurring between 2000 and 2005) and the difference between the strictly economic, and the more general ‘most important problem’ performance evaluations. Since the estimated effect of this dummy variable was trivial, we dropped it from subsequent analysis.

37 Rabinowitz, George and MacDonald, Stuart Elaine, ‘A Directional Theory of Issue Voting’, American Political Science Review, 83 (1989), 93121

38 Angus Campbell, Phillip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller and Donald E. Stokes, The American Voter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960

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.

40 Rivers, Doug, ‘Heterogeneity in Models of Electoral Choice’, American Journal of Political Science, 32 (1988), 737757

Duch, Raymond M., Palmer, Harvey D. and Anderson, Christopher J., ‘Heterogeneity in Perceptions of National Economic Conditions’, American Journal of Political Science, 44 (2000), 635652

Gomez, Brad T., and Wilson, J. Matthew, ‘Political Sophistication and Economic Voting in the American Electorate: A Theory of Heterogeneous Attribution’, American Journal of Political Science, 45 (2001), 899914

Wilson, Carole J. ‘Consideration Sets and Political Choices: A Heterogeneous Model of Vote Choice and Sub-National Party Strength.’ Political Behavior, 30 (2008), 161–184

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.

42 Austen-Smith, David, ‘Sincere Voting in Models of Legislative Elections’, Social Change and Welfare, 6 (1989), 287299

Clark, William R., Golder, Matt and Golder, Sona N., Principles of Comparative Politics (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2009)

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.

44 Stephen W. Raudenbush and Anthony S. Bryk, Hierarchical Linear Models: Applications and Data Analysis Methods, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2002), p. 267

45 Stephen W. Raudenbush, Anthony S Bryk and Richard Congdon, HLM6: Hierarchical Linear & Nonlinear Modelling (Lincolnwood, Ill.: Scientific Software International, 2004

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.

50 Pippa Norris, Electoral Engineering: Voting Rules and Political Behavior (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004

Sanbonmatsu, Kira, ‘Gender-Related Political Knowledge and the Descriptive Representation of Women’, Political Behavior, 25 (2003), 367388

51 Bruno Kaufmann and M. Dane Waters, eds, Direct Democracy in Europe: A Comprehensive Reference Guide to the Initiative and Referendum Process in Europe (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2004

52 Christopher Z. Mooney and Robert D. Duval, Bootstrapping: A Nonparametric Approach to Statistical Inference (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1993

53 Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, ‘The Impact of Political Institutions’, in Klingemann, ed., The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, p. 26

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

* Political Science Department, Rutgers University (email: ); 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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