Elections to the Irish presidency belong to the category of those in which hardly any political power is involved. In elections such as this one, according to second-order election theory, voter behaviour reflects mainly preferences in the first-order political arena, where actual policy is made. This theory fails, however, to explain voter preferences in the 1997 Irish presidential elections. An alternative perspective of a popularity contest, suggesting that voters' preferences are largely unconnected to their political opinions, and generally idiosyncratic in nature, also fails to fit the evidence. Nevertheless, the information, framing and priming that voters were subjected to during the 1997 campaign are shown here to result in the development of a significant unidimensional cognitive and preferential ordering of the candidates.
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