New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by José Casas Pardo and Pedro Schwartz
Chapter 11: A Reformulation of Voting Theory
William A. Niskanen INTRODUCTION Our standard theory of voting behavior – the core of public choice – is a mess! The theory of voter behavior is asymmetric with the theory of candidate behavior. And more important, the theory does not explain some of the more important changes in the outcomes of American elections. This is not a new observation. Samuel Huntington (1950), Morris Fiorina (1974), Richard Fenno (1977) and Sam Peltzman (1984) were among the most vocal critics of the median voter theorem, arguing that divergent platforms are needed to adequately explain political behavior. But none of these distinguished scholars oﬀered a coherent competing theory of voting behavior. This chapter summarizes a major problem of the standard theory of voting behavior, develops an alternative theory based on a joint determination of voter and candidate behavior, and presents some evidence from recent elections that is more consistent with the alternative theory. 2 A MAJOR PROBLEM WITH THE STANDARD THEORY OF VOTING BEHAVIOR The standard theory of voter behavior is dramatically asymmetric with the theory of candidate behavior. (For a good recent summary of the standard theory, see Munger, 2001.) Voters are assumed to make a joint determination of whether to vote and for whom to vote, based on their understanding of the issue positions of the alternative candidates. Candidates, in contrast, are represented as assuming that voters have made a decision whether to vote that is invariant to the issue positions of the candidates but that their decision for whom to vote...
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