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Public Choice and the Challenges of Democracy

Edited by José Casas Pardo and Pedro Schwartz

This timely and important volume addresses the serious challenges faced by democracy in contemporary society. With contributions from some of the world’s most prestigious scholars of public choice and political science, this comprehensive collection presents a complete overview of the threats democracy must confront, by both contesting accepted ideas and offering new approaches. Using theoretical and empirical evidence, this book will be a significant addition to the current literature, providing original and enlightening perspectives on the theory of democracy.
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Chapter 11: A Reformulation of Voting Theory

William A. Niskanen


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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