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Voting Behavior. POLS 125: Political Parties & Elections. “I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.” —W.C. Fields (1879-1946). Models of Voting Behavior. Sociological – Vote choice is a function of group membership.

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voting behavior

Voting Behavior

POLS 125: Political Parties & Elections

“I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.”

—W.C. Fields (1879-1946)

models of voting behavior
Models of Voting Behavior
  • Sociological – Vote choice is a function of group membership.
  • Socio-Psychological – Vote choice is the product of long-standing identifications.
  • Strategic – Vote choice is a function of the spatial distance between a voter’s policy preferences and the candidate’s issue position.
what is group identification
What is Group Identification?
  • SELF-CATEGORIZATION: Self-awareness of one’s objective membership in a group
  • AFFINITY: Psychological sense of attachment to the group
  • African-American
  • Working class
  • Single Mom
  • College student
  • Republican
  • Environmentalist
  • Catholic
  • Senior Citizen

These identities are often ACTIVATED by political parties and their candidates.

why should there be a gender gap
Why should there be a “gender gap”?
  • Physical and sociological differences?
  • Different political priorities?
  • Different policy preferences?
top 10 signs you re a security mom
Top 10 Signs You’re a Security Mom
  • Your attack dog has a bin Laden chew toy.
  • You base your SUV purchase on how many places there are to conceal a weapon.
  • Your neighborhood watch complains you don’t leave any perps for them.
  • You’ll vote for Bush because the other guy is a wussy.
  • You traded in your Gucci for the M-30 Leather Gun Purse.
  • The guys at the range call you ‘Sarge’.
  • You send your kids to Judo Camp.
  • Your son quits the Boy Scouts because they were “amateurs”. (MP personal favorite)
  • Monday is “MRE Night”.
  • You DO wear combat boots.
identity politics 2008
Identity Politics, 2008Identity Politics, 2008

Did blacks support Barack Obama?

Did women support Sarah Palin?

It turns out that the biggest deal about racial and gender identity in the campaign is that, especially to younger Americans who live and work in a vastly changed country, it isn’t such a very big deal after all.”

— Matt Bai, “Retro Identity Politics”


“What are we left with, then, as the identity-politics election of 2008 comes to a close? We have a Republican Party more committed than ever to a fetishized picture of working-class white maleness and unthreatening womanhood. We have a Democratic Party freshly aware of how difficult it is to look honestly at the history and reality of race and gender -- but also aware of how powerful those forces are. We've elected our first African American president, but we've done more than that. We've opened up a rawer, more meaningful national conversation about identity than we've had since the heyday of the civil-rights and women's lib movements. Race, gender, and their discontents haven't gone away. The fact that we're talking about them again? That's progress.”

— Dana Goldstein, “The Identity Politics Election”

Identity Politics, 2008

"Oprah is a Traitor!!!"

"For the first time in history we actually have a chance at putting a woman in the white house and Oprah backs the black MAN. She's choosing her race over her gender – hypocrisy at its finest!!”

What happens when social identities collide?

racial resentment
Racial Resentment?

“There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”

— Jimmy Carter

the youth vote
The Youth Vote
  • There are 43 million U.S. citizens between the ages 18-30.
  • 64% of 18-30 year old citizens are registered to vote.
  • 18-30 year olds make up 24% of total pool of eligible voters.
  • The youth vote increased by 4.6 million in 2004. Voters under the age of 30 made up 17% of the electorate in 2004—roughly the same proportion as in 2000.
  • In 2004, young voters preferred Kerry to Bush by a margin of 54%-45%.
generational politics
Life-cycle effects


Role transition

Period effects

Great Depression

Vietnam War


Cohort effects

“Greatest Generation,” 1901-1924

Silent Generation, 1925-1945

Baby Boomers, 1946-1964

Generation X, 1965-1980

Reagan Babies, 1980-1988

Generational Politics

"A man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart; a man who is still a socialist at 40 has no head."

—Winston Churchill

voter turnout by age
Voter Turnout by Age

Voter turnout

Chronological age

how apathetic
How Apathetic?
  • 17% of students were interested in “influencing the political structure” (58% of Baby Boomers said the same in 1966).
  • 26% were interested in “keeping up with political affairs.”
  • 28% wanted to be “a community leader.”
  • In contrast, 73% of college freshmen said they wanted to be well-off financially.

In 2000, an annual survey of freshmen in the colleges and universities across the country found that:

i cannot be charted
I Cannot Be Charted

I am the youth vote. And I'm tired of being preached at, studied and wooed. I want to be educated, listened to and, most of all, respected.

Everyone has a theory as to why I don't vote, but no one really asks me. So I'll explain.

I am neither lazy nor apathetic. I'm confused and frustrated. I am told to care about issues like Social Security and health care, when chances are high that I won't even find a job after I graduate from college. I juggle low-wage, part-time jobs or a full-time class schedule, and I'm not necessarily available on Nov. 2.

I cannot be accurately represented by percentages and statistics. I cannot be graphed and charted. I am not a Democrat, Republican or other. I'm a mixed bag of experiences and influences, and no one can predict how I will vote when I do vote.

I am not ignorant. I know what's going in the world—even if I hear it mostly from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." And yes, at times I do care more about the latest episode of "The Sopranos" than the headline news. That's because I live the headline news. I know about poverty and crime. I live it every day.

I am not disengaged, I'm worn out. Sometimes I feel that no matter how I vote, there will still be war, crime and poverty. And I have other things on my mind. I am worried about skin cancer, drunken drivers, eating disorders, what I'm going to be when I grow up, how I'm going to get there and what I'm going to do Friday night.

i cannot be charted26
I Cannot Be Charted

I don't know the difference between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry because they don't take time out from kissing babies and the behinds of corporate executives to tell me. Anyway, sex scandals, wars based on false pretenses and broken promises have left me cynical about all politicians.

Howard Dean tried to change my mind about the political process. He made me a part of his campaign, rather than a target. He recognized the power I hold, rather than ignoring my potential.

I am active on campuses across the country, but this part of me is recognized only as a minority--a few bright stars in an otherwise dark night.

I am not a dark knight. I will not ride in on my horse come November and steal the election for one candidate or another. I don't know if I will even really vote at all. But I do know that I am 48 million strong. And if someone would just reach out to me--not just during election years, but every day--I would show them overwhelming support at the polls.

I am the youth vote.


Newsweek, July 12, 2004

voter turnout by age27
Voter Turnout by Age

Delayed maturation?

Today, the average age of first-time brides is 25, compared with an average age of 21 in 1964. For first-time grooms, the average age is 27.5, compared with an average age of 24 in 1964.

Voter turnout

Chronological age

the american voter 1960
The American Voter (1960)
  • Partisan identification is learned through pre-adult socialization
  • It is an enduring psychological attachment, a point of self-reference

This view has been under attack ever since…

key questions
Key Questions
  • How changeable is a voter’s partisan identification?
  • Do feelings of partisanship respond to current political events (e.g., a “running tally”)?
  • How loyal are self-described partisans?
  • Has there been a rise in the number of Independents?
partisan identification
Partisan Identification

“Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?”

“Would you call yourself a strong [DEMOCRAT/REPUBLICAN] or a not very strong [DEMOCRAT/REPUBLICAN]?”

[IF INDEPENDENT, NO PREFERENCE, or OTHER] “Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party or to the Democratic Party?”

Do all Independents belong in the middle of the political spectrum?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Strong Democrat

Weak Democrat

Lean Democrat


Lean Republican

Weak Republican

Strong Republican

trends in partisan identification 1952 2004 excluding leaners
Trends in Partisan Identification, 1952-2004Excluding “Leaners”

Source: National Election Studies, various years.

Democratic Expected Vote in Presidential Elections, 1952-2004

Source: National Election Studies, various years.

  • Party identification encourages an active interest in politics.
  • Once formed, party identification acts as a short-cut or cue.
  • It also serves as a filter or perceptual screen, shaping other more specific attitudes, including evaluations of office holders.
reagan democrats
Reagan Democrats

The term “Reagan Democrats” refers to a group of voters (composed largely of white, ethnic, blue collar, Northerners) who continued to identify with the Democratic Party while voting for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

key questions37
Key Questions
  • How changeable is a voter’s partisan identification?
  • Do feelings of partisanship respond to current political events (e.g., a “running tally”)?
  • How loyal are self-described partisans?
  • Has there been a rise in the number of Independents?
a rise in independents
A Rise in Independents?
  • Not all respondents classified as “Independents” label themselves that way.
  • Most independents are, in fact, “hidden” partisans.
Each of these respondents was ultimately classified as an “Independent.”
  • “Nothing in that respect. I don’t consider myself anything politically.”
  • “I ain’t none of them.”
  • “None.”
  • “Not anything.”
  • [Laughs] “You should call me nothing.”
  • “No preference.”
  • “I don’t think of myself as anything.”
  • “It depends.”
  • “I’m an American.”
  • “May the best man win. It’s the best candidate.”
  • “I’m someone who believes in what I believe is a good man who will do the most for the country.”
  • I’m not a Republican, not a Democrat, not an Independent, and not a Communist.”
  • I’m nothing. I don’t holler about it.”
  • [Interviewer asks if the respondent would call himself an Independent.] “You don’t mean one of those minority groups?”
  • “Oh hell, I don’t know.”
Trends in Partisan Identification, 1952-2004Including “Leaners”

Source: National Election Studies, various years.

the two americas
The Two Americas

What divides Americans is authenticity, not something hard and ugly like economics. While liberals commit endless acts of hubris, sucking down lattes, driving ostentatious European cars, and trying to reform the world, the humble people of the red states go about their unpretentious business, eating down-home foods, vacationing in the Ozarks, whistling while they work, feeling comfortable about who they are, and knowing they are secure under the watch of George W. Bush, a man they love as one of their own.

— Thomas Frank

the two americas45
The Two Americas

Why is it so puzzling that people vote their convictions rather than their pocketbooks?

— Jon A. Shields

newspaper headlines following the 2004 presidential election
FAITH, VALUES FUELED WIN (The Chicago Tribune)





Newspaper Headlines following the 2004 Presidential Election

All of these analyses were based on the same questionfrom the same exit poll…

2004 exit poll results
2004 Exit Poll Results

Since “moral values” outranked all other issues in the 2004 exit poll, some argue that Bush won re-election because of a legion of religious voters. Others call it a myth.

what are moral values
What are “Moral Values”?
  • Being against gay marriage?
  • Opposing stem cell research?
  • Opposing abortion?
  • Helping the poor?
  • Withdrawing troops from Iraq?
  • Character attributes of the candidates?

Some argue that the “moral values” controversy rests on a single “dodgy” exit poll question…

The Fault Lines of Religious Belief

Evangelicals may be theologically conservative, but they have not always been politically conservative.

Evangelical voters are becoming increasingly concerned with a variety of issues: the Iraq War, the environment, torture, poverty, etc.—things that put them at odds with the president’s agenda.

Indeed, some argue that it is no longer accurate to identify “evangelical” with “religious right.”

necessary conditions for issue voting
Necessary Conditions for Issue Voting
  • Awareness of issue
  • Intensity of feeling
  • Perception of party differences
  • Willingness to override partisan identification

Which issues are most likely to meet these conditions?

presidential voting and economic growth
Presidential Voting and Economic Growth

Retrospective voting on the economy provides an information short-cut.


perceived economic conditions 1980 2008
Perceived Economic Conditions, 1980-2008

Perceptions of the economy mattered in 1992, more than reality.

Source: National Election Study, various years.

candidate evaluations

Candidate Evaluations

“Maybe a nation that consumes as much booze and dope as we do and has our kind of divorce statistics should pipe down about ‘character issues.’ Either that or just go ahead and determine the presidency with three-legged races and pie-eating contests. It would make better TV.”

— P. J. O'Rourke

candidate evaluations59
Candidate Evaluations
  • In the traits they convey (e.g., honesty, trustworthiness, intelligence);
  • In the feelings they evoke (e.g., anger, hope, pride, fear);

There is at least one enduring truth in the study of voting behavior—citizens vote in overwhelming numbers for the presidential candidate they like the most. Candidates are important in at least two ways—

presidential debates
Presidential Debates
  • 1960: Kennedy/Nixon debate
  • 1988: Kitty Dukakis question
  • 1992: Clinton/Bush on the economy
  • 2000: Gore’s personality
  • 2004: Kerry as a “flip-flopper,” Bush’s body language
issue proximities on defense spending 1980
Issue Proximities on Defense Spending, 1980

The average voter in 1980 was closer to Reagan’s position on defense spending, than Carter’s.

Reduce spending

Increase spending

comparative assessment of candidate attributes 1980
Comparative Assessment of Candidate Attributes, 1980

Reagan was a stronger candidate than Carter.

Carter stronger

Reagan stronger

Solve economic problems

Provide strong leadership




Maintain good foreign relations

NOTE: Each entry is the proportion of those giving Carter a favorable rating minus the proportion giving Reagan a favorable rating.

2000 putting it all together
2000: Putting It All Together

Because of peace and prosperity, most econometric models of the race predicted a Gore win at somewhere between 53% to 60%. His actual total was closer to 49%. The conditions Gore faced were favorable to the incumbent president’s party, and as its standard bearer he should have received credit for it, but he did not. He fell well short of expectations. Why?




nes thermometer scales
NES Thermometer Scales

Average feeling thermometer rating towards the candidates in 2000:

Al Gore: 57°

George W. Bush: 56°





President’s handing of the war in Iraq