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Level-of-Analysis Effects on Explanations of Voting: The Case of the 1982 US Senate Elections


The availability of rich survey data, and concerns over the ecological fallacy, have led voting researchers to focus on the explanation of individual voting decisions at the expense of accounting for patterns of aggregate election outcomes. This has skewed our understanding of the relative importance of various factors in the electoral process. A framework for analysis of elections at multiple levels is developed and applied using data from twenty-three exit polls from the US Senate elections. Comparable parameters for a simple voting model are estimated for individual voting and for election outcomes. Election-level factors, especially candidates' issue strategies and incumbency, are substantially more important in accounting for election outcomes than in explaining individual voting decisions. Finally, working with election outcomes permits an estimate of a path model of Senate election outcomes that shows key relationships that are not accessible from individual level data.

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Warren E. Miller and Merrill Shanks , ‘Policy Directions and Presidential Leadership: Alternative Interpretations of the 1980 Presidential Election’, British Journal of Political Science, 12 (1982), 299356.

Donald R. Kinder and D. Roderick Kiewiel , ‘Economic Discontent and Political Behavior: The Role of Personal Grievances and Collective Economic Judgments in Congressional Voting’, American Journal of Political Science, 23 (1979), 495527.

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Hubert M. Blalock , ‘Causal Inference, Closed Populations and Measures of Association’, American Political Science Review, 61 (1967), 130–6.

Gerald C. Wright and Michael Berkman , ‘Candidates and Policy in United States Senate Elections’, American Political Science Review, 80 (1986), 567–88

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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