George M. Bob-Milliar
Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015.
Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Paul Sabatier and Hank Jenkins Smith introduced the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) in the late 1980s, to refine the theoretical and methodological tools available for the study of the policy process. In the past two decades, the framework has grown in use outside the United States, and it is now applied to study a broad range of policy arenas in all continents. ACF scholars have created a core community that regularly synthetizes findings from applications of the framework, giving the ACF the form of a true research program.
The ACF has three principal theoretical domains: advocacy coalitions, policy subsystems, and policy change. Expectations about the interactions between and within these domains are contained in 15 main hypotheses. The ACF posits that advocacy coalitions and policy subsystems are the most efficient way to organize actors interested in the policy process for empirical research. The policy subsystem is the main unit of analysis in the ACF, and there are four paths leading to policy change. The aspect that has received more attention in existing applications is the effect that external events have on policy change, and some areas in need of refinement include: policy-oriented learning, interactions across subsystems, the theoretical foundations to identification of belief systems, and how the interactions between beliefs and interests affect coalition behavior.
Dane Warner and Jason Gainous
Behavioral research largely treats attitudinal ambivalence as a component of attitude strength. Specifically, attitudinal ambivalence exists when someone simultaneously possesses positive and negative evaluations of a single attitude object. Ambivalent individuals do not have a single “true” attitude about political issues but rather a store of multiple and sometimes conflicting attitudes that they might draw upon at any given time when making a decision. Research has suggested that such ambivalence is quite common when it comes to political attitudes. Thus, understanding the measurement of ambivalence, the sources of ambivalence, and the consequences of ambivalence is critical to understanding political decision-making. Ambivalence measures largely fall within one of two types: Meta-attitudinal measures where individuals assess their own ambivalence and operative measures where researchers construct indicators that assess ambivalence without individuals’ cognizance that it is being measured. Most research suggests that operative measures perform better. Research generally assumes that the causes of ambivalence are rooted in individual differences in attitude strength that may result from a host of individual or combined sources. The most common sources of ambivalence researchers focus on are value conflict, differences in political knowledge, Context/Political Environment, and Cross-Cutting Information/Conflicting Networks/Groups. Finally, some of the most prevalent consequences of ambivalence are an increase in susceptibility to influence, an effect on the rate of political participation, and increased variance in vote choice. It is here, in the consequences of ambivalence, where the most direct connection to political decision-making is evident. In a democratic society, the decision centered on for whom one votes, is perhaps, the quintessential political decision.
One of the most frequently evoked emotions on a daily basis is anger. Regardless of time and context, anger is a central emotion of action and motivation. Closely related with a number of high arousal negative emotions, such as hatred, disgust, feelings of revenge, and contempt, anger stands out among all with its neural and appraisal foundations and attitudinal and behavioral consequences. More importantly, anger differs from anxiety in essential aspects that place the two emotions in different dimensions. So far, various studies have demonstrated the potential consequences of anger (and its distinct nature from anxiety) across an array of domains including risk assessments, policy preferences, information processing and motivated biases, political participation, social media engagement, group relations and ethnocentrism, intractable conflicts and conflict resolution, and vote behavior. Some others have treated anger as a mediator or a moderator between prior attitudes and beliefs, with evidence on how it could alter primary associations. It is thus relevant to begin with the overview of the theoretical debates and matters of conceptualization, followed by a discussion of how anger differs from anxiety. In pursuit of these foundations, contemporary research tackles the domains where anger plays a critical role in exploration of early 21st-century phenomena such as the populist surge, growing polarization, and disconnected networks across distinct contexts.
Markus Wagner and Davide Morisi
Research has shown emotions affect decision-making in ways that do not simply undermine rationality. Instead, in recent decades researchers have recognized that emotions also motivate and focus individuals and moderate how they make decisions. Initial research into emotions divided these simply into positive and negative, but this perspective has largely been displaced in political psychology by an emphasis on the impact of distinct emotions; among these, anxiety has received the most scholarly attention, rivaled only by anger. The causes of anxiety, also termed fear and unease, are diverse, but research highlights certain attributes of situational evaluation such as low self-control, low certainty, and low external agency.
Once present, anxiety has important consequences for decision-making. First, anxiety increases how much information individuals seek out, a pattern of behavior meant to reduce uncertainty. Second, anxiety decreases heuristic processing and weakens the reliance of underlying convictions in determining decisions. Instead, anxious individuals are more likely to think systematically about choices they face. Importantly, anxiety can affect choices and decisions even if they are not directly related to what caused anxiety to emerge, that is, if anxiety is incidental rather than integral.
In addition to influencing how people make decisions, anxiety may also directly influence the decisions individuals make. Thus, anxiety increases risk aversion, leading individuals to choose safer paths of action. Anxiety also makes individuals less likely to take action at all, with the most common response being withdrawal and passivity. Applied to political decision-making, anxiety may have the important consequence of decreasing political participation.
Research into the role of anxiety in decision-making is fast moving and vibrant, but to become fully established it needs to ensure rigor in measurement and research design; this will require considerable methodological research. Substantively, future research should focus on the effects of elite messages on anxiety as well as on how anxiety influences citizen attitudes and evaluations.
There is a great deal of research, spanning social psychology, sociology, and political science, on politically relevant attitudes toward women and the influence of gender on individual’s political decision making. First, there are several measures of attitudes toward women, including measures of sexism and gender role attitudes, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, the Old-Fashioned Sexism Scale, the Modern Sexism Scale, and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. There are advantages and disadvantages of these existing measures. Moreover, there are important correlates and consequences of these attitudes. Correlates include education level and the labor force participation of one’s mother or spouse. The consequences of sexist and non-egalitarian gender role attitudes include negative evaluations of female candidates for political office and lower levels of gender equality at the state level. Understanding the sources and effects of attitudes toward women is relevant to public policy and electoral scholars.
Second, gender appears to have a strong effect on shaping men’s and women’s attitudes and political decisions. Gender differences in public opinion consistently arise across several issue areas, and there are consistent gender differences in vote choice and party identification. Various issues produce gender gaps, including the domestic and international use of force, compassion issues such as social welfare spending, equal rights, and government spending more broadly. Women are consistently more liberal on all of these policies. On average, women are more likely than men to vote for a Democratic Party candidate and identify as a Democrat. There is also a great deal of research investigating various origins of these gender differences. Comprehending when and why gender differences in political decision making emerge is important to policymakers, politicians, the political parties, and scholars.
Brooke N. Shannon, Zachary A. McGee, and Bryan D. Jones
Bounded rationality conceives of people engaging in politics as goal oriented but endowed with cognitive and emotional architectures that limit their abilities to pursue those goals rationally. Political institutions provide the critical link between micro- and macro-processes in political decision-making. They act to (a) compensate for those bounds on rationality; (b) make possible cooperative arrangements not possible under the assumptions of full or comprehensive rationality; and (c) fall prey to the same cognitive and emotional limits or canals that individual humans do. The cognitive limitations that hamper individuals are not only replicated at the organizational level but are in fact causal.
The role of candidates in shaping voting choice has generated much research—and at least as much controversy—since modern electoral behavior research began in the 1960s. Much of the controversy surrounds the personalization of politics and whether political systems—and especially parliamentary systems—are becoming more leader-oriented. Three fundamental changes in electoral behavior underpin the study of candidates and voting choice behavior: the declining impact of social structure on the vote; partisan dealignment, with voters drifting away from their traditional party attachments; and the decline in the mass memberships of political parties. Researchers argue that because of these changes, fostered by the growth of television, candidates have assumed a greater role in structuring the vote. While there is impressionistic evidence that leaders have become more important, empirical evidence of an underlying change in voter behavior is more difficult to identify. Accordingly, this essay focuses mainly on changes in the political context within which candidates operate, since we expect this to be the source of any change.
The design of political institutions shapes the level of attention that candidates receive, and that is especially the case with electoral systems. Electoral systems with fewer parties are more likely to focus voters’ attentions on candidates when compared to systems with larger numbers of parties. Weak party organizations coupled with partisan dealignment within the electorate can also alter the role and profile of candidates, although their impact is difficult to quantify. Changes in the mass media—and particularly the advent of television in the 1960s and the visual images on which it relies—are often viewed as the major cause of the personalization of politics. A new disruptive technology, the Internet, looks likely to stimulate additional political change for candidates and voting in the 21st century. Finally, what voters look for in their candidates appears to be stable both over time and cross-nationally and can be reduced to two overarching qualities: character and competence.
Christopher W. Hale
Historically, the Catholic Church in Latin America has supported conservative interests. It legitimized Spanish colonial rule and sided with traditionalist elites following Latin American independence. However, beginning in the mid-20th century, some within the Church engaged with social causes, and a new progressive theology inspired many priests and bishops to advocate politically on behalf of the poor. The resultant movement helped topple dictatorships, facilitated transitions to democracy, and developed as a result of three factors. First, liberation theology emboldened clergy to support the political causes of the poor and created an ideological frame encouraging Catholic laity to organize for social change. Furthermore, competition from new Protestant religions provided Catholic leadership with an incentive to support secular political movements and created an opportunity for political engagement through the Catholic Church. Finally, decentralization within the Church encouraged Catholic adherents to engage and develop organizational capacities at the grass-roots. Taken together, scholarly explanations emphasizing framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization create a compelling account of the development of progressive Catholic activism.
Less sustained theoretical attention has been given to assessing the dynamics of conservative Latin American Catholic advocacy. The Church consistently opposes abortion, divorce, the use of contraceptives, and gay marriage. Moreover, although the Catholic Church has enabled many women’s political movements, it suppresses efforts at liberalizing reproductive rights. Future research on Catholic advocacy in Latin America should identify additional pathways through which framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization influence conservative Catholic advocacy in the region. Additionally, the Church’s relationship with environmental issues is understudied. Finally, Latin America offers untapped potential to examine the complicated relationship between ethnicity, religion, and collective action.
Timothy A. Byrnes
The key to understanding the political role of the Catholic hierarchy is acknowledging that the leadership of the Catholic Church is remarkably well suited to participate at all levels of political contestation. Individual diocesan bishops often play active political roles in their specific contexts, generally framed around protecting the institutional interests of local churches, schools, and social service providers, as well as representing the social interests of Catholic communities in local political discourse and conflict. For their part, national conferences of bishops serve in many countries as vehicles for advancing the church’s positions within nationally defined policy debates and political contestation. These conferences have limited formal teaching authority according to Catholic ecclesiology. But in many contexts, these coneferences have come to play important roles as policy issues of interest to the Catholic hierarchy get played out on national rather than local political stages. Finally, the Pope, as leader not only of the transnational church but also of the sovereign entity of the Holy See is able to participate in world politics in ways that would be unthinkable for virtually any other religious leader. Enjoying formal diplomatic relations with over 180 countries and occupying a seat as Permanent Observer at the UN, the Holy See is deeply engaged in international diplomacy and firmly entrenched as a prominent element of global civil society.
In sum, it is precisely this institutional complexity and multileveled breadth that renders the Catholic hierarchy uniquely well positioned to play meaningful roles at all levels of politics: local, national, and global. Moreover, the multifaceted ways in which these levels of the church’s leadership structure interact with and intersect with each other also grant complexity, nuance, and pervasiveness to the hierarchy’s political role. The first requirement for scholars seeking to conceptualize and explicate this role, therefore, is to be careful about what we mean when we use the term “the Catholic hierarchy,” and to be cognizant of the many different “levels of analysis” at which the Catholic Church operates as a universal institution.
Jaimie Bleck and Nicolas van de Walle
Between 1990 and 2015, 184 multicandidate presidential elections and 207 multiparty legislative elections were held in some 46 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What does the routinization of multiparty electoral politics mean for political life in Africa? Much that is unexceptional and recognizable about African elections is well worth documenting, since most international accounts of African elections focus on their more exotic side. In fact, candidates engage in standard political rhetoric in mass rallies and undertake campaign stops around the country. Many make use of social media to communicate with citizens. Voters reward office holders who have delivered good economic performance; they pay attention to the professional backgrounds and personal qualities of candidates and their policy promises. Opposition parties win legislative seats and subnational offices, as well as the presidency, albeit more rarely.
While the routinization of high-quality elections has deepened democracy in some countries, there is tremendous cross-national variation in election quality across the continent. The relationship between elections and democratic deepening is mediated by national political circumstances that vary across the region. Even in cases where incumbents do not resort to oppressive tactics during campaigns, the patterns of presidential dominance typically create tremendous incumbency advantage at the executive level.
Elections neither necessarily advance nor prevent further democratization. Instead, they should be conceptualized as “political moments,” which temporarily create greater uncertainty and heightened attention to politics, which can either lead to democratic gains or bring about regression. However, citizens across the continent are resolute in their commitment to elections. As opposition parties gain greater experience in office, as an older political elite transition out of politics, and as voters continue to access unprecedented information, the continent is likely to experience a democratic deepening in the longer term.
Susan E. Scarrow
Party membership has long been an important channel for political participation in many countries. Strong membership organizations have helped parties win elections and stay connected with voters between elections, and membership opportunities have helped to mobilize some citizens who might otherwise have stayed out of politics. Yet in the last quarter-century, long-established political parties in parliamentary democracies have, with a few notable exceptions, experienced sharp enrollment declines, while newer parties have developed modest memberships at best. This has led many observers to question the continued viability of membership-based political parties.
However, that is not the whole story. While some signs point to the obsolescence of party membership, there are other indications that parties are trying to reinvent the form, whether as a passport to individual political empowerment or as a pathway to digital citizenship. Most strikingly, many parties are experimenting with new procedures that give members a direct say in important party decisions. In this sense, the paradoxical story of party membership in the early 21st century is one of numerical decline accompanied by a possible increase in political relevance.
Kimberly H. Conger
The Christian Right has been an active force in Republican and American politics for over 40 years. Its focus on morality politics (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, pornography, and sex and science education) has had an impact on the fortunes and expectations of conservative candidates, activists, and organizations all over the country. Its comprehensive activity demonstrates the multifaceted changes in society and religious engagement that brought the Christian Right as a political force into supporters’ consciousnesses, their churches, and the voting booth. Success in mobilization and the ballot box has not always created policy change, though the movement can claim policy victories in many states and localities. The largest impact the movement has had is in the Republican Party in all of its incarnations, altering the policies and strategies that are important and successful for the party. The incarnation of the movement shows signs of significant change, however, as the Republican Party is transformed by the populist messages and policies of the Trump administration. Scholars of the Christian Right movement and religion in American politics more generally should pay attention to the varying narratives, issues, sources of power, and social cohesion that the movement and its constituency, largely conservative Protestants, display. Like research on many social and political movements, the study of the Christian Right benefits from an interdisciplinary approach and a good grasp of the lived experience of the supporters, activists, and leaders within the movement.
Henrik Oscarsson and Lauri Rapeli
Political sophistication refers to the role of expertise and the use of information in the forming of political judgments. Citizens in a democracy need a sufficient level of political sophistication to make sense of politics and to hold office holders accountable. Most people do not seem to be as sophisticated as theory would expect, and political sophistication also seems to be very unevenly spread among individuals. The consequences for democratic governance continue to be a matter of much scholarly debate.
Although most researchers agree that sophistication among citizens tends to be low, many issues in the research field are deeply contested. First, several concepts such as awareness, sophistication, and knowledge are used more or less interchangeably in analyses of the political competence of citizens. It is, however, unclear whether the terminology conceals essential conceptual differences.
Second, the empirical strategy of using surveys to measure sophistication has been heavily criticized. For some, the survey is an unsuitable method because it measures the respondents’ ability to produce correct answers under suboptimal conditions, rather than measuring what they actually know about politics. For others, the survey questions themselves are an inadequate measure of sophistication.
Third, it is not clear what the effects of citizens’ political sophistication or lack thereof are on democratic governance. According to one group of scholars, the aggregated opinions and electoral choices of democratic publics would not look very different even if they were more sophisticated. The opponents of this low-information rationality theorem claim that increases in citizens’ sophistication would lead to substantial differences in democratic output. In other words, perceptions of the significance of sophistication for democracy deeply divide scholars working in the field.
There is less disagreement concerning the individual-level determinants of sophistication. Although being male, well educated, and in a socially advantaged position still stand out as the strongest predictors of high sophistication, recent findings provide a more nuanced understanding of how sophistication is distributed among citizens.
In addition to many enduring disputes, some questions remain largely unanswered. Without cross-nationally standardized survey items, scholars have struggled to conduct comparative studies of political sophistication. Therefore, role of political institutions as facilitators of political sophistication is to some extent uncertain. Whether and how sophistication changes over time are equally important, but mostly unexplored, questions.
Paul A. Djupe and Brian R. Calfano
In the main, the link between religious variables and political choices is wrapped up in a communicative process of exposure and adoption. Specifically, people become exposed to religious teachings and viewpoints within religious contexts, they then must determine whether and to what extent they will adopt those teachings and viewpoints as their own, and then they must adapt them to political ends. Critical to this approach is the acknowledgment that religious social and institutional contexts are rife with diversity, even within religious traditions. This diversity extends to religious adherents, congregations, and elites and means that people receive a variety of religious and political cues from religious sources across time and space. It is this variation that is critical to measure in order to understand religion’s effects on political behavior. That is, documenting the implications of religious diversity is as much a question of research design as it is a theoretical framework. This framework is flexible enough to accommodate the growing literature examining political input effects on religious output.
The norms and patterns of exposure and adoption vary by the combination of the communicator and context: political communication in congregations, religious communication effects on politics in congregations, and religious communication by elites in public space. There are very few instances of political elites in religious spaces, at least in the United States. Presidents and other political elites have used religious rhetoric throughout American history in varying proportions, though how they have used it is changing in the Trump era to be much more particularistic and exclusive rather than the traditional broad and inclusive language of past presidents.
A central variable moderating the impact of communication is credibility, which can be demonstrated in multiple ways, including political agreement as well as religious office, rhetorical choices, and decision-making processes. Religious elites, especially, battle against the weight of history, inattention, and misperception in their attempts to lead prophetically. As a result, religious elite influence, in the sense of changing hearts and minds, is a fraught enterprise.
Naturally, we recommend adopting research designs that are appropriate for incorporating measurement on communication exposure so we can appropriately understand adoption decisions. This demands some creativity on behalf of researchers, which also drives them toward experimental work where exposure questions are built into the design and affords them a great deal of control.
Framing effects are produced by political communications that emphasize certain characteristics or consequences of an issue or policy to the exclusion of other features. By increasing the accessibility of those characteristics in people’s judgments, individuals can be swayed between supporting and opposing a policy depending on the valence of the highlighted feature. The preference inconsistencies that define framing effects were generated initially in environments in which individuals responded to a singular framing of an issue (i.e., a one-sided frame) at the expense of alternative conceptualizations of the problem. An important question is whether framing effects can be diminished by the competition among ideas that is characteristic of democratic politics.
The analysis of competitive framing has focused on the interaction between individual predispositions and processing styles and the combination of messages that individuals receive. The effectiveness of any particular communication strategy will depend on the characteristics of the target audience (specifically its values, knowledge, and processing style), the availability and applicability of the frames employed (i.e., whether they are strong or weak), and the degree to which there is competition and debate over the issues.
Research has been based on increasingly realistic experimental designs that attempt to reproduce how people encounter and process communications about politics in natural environments. The competitive context affects how much information people receive as well as how they process that information. In noncompetitive political environments, individuals, especially those who are unmotivated, tend to apply whatever considerations are made accessible by the one-sided messages they receive. In contrast, competing frames tend to stimulate individuals to deliberate on the merits of alternative interpretations.
The key difference between competitive framing in a single period versus over time is that when people receive competing messages about political issues over the course of a campaign or debate, their attitudes are affected not only by the content of the messages but also the sequence and timing of communications. The same set of messages will have a different impact depending on the order and combinations in which those messages were received. The most significant implication of these dynamics is that democratic competition—even when the opposing frames are balanced and of equal strength—may reduce or eliminate framing effects only when people receive the opposing frames simultaneously.
The magnitude of framing effects at different junctures of a campaign depends on the extent of exposure to frames and the degree to which citizens learn and retain information derived from those frames. Individuals who more efficiently process and store information—the online processors and those with a strong need to evaluate—are less likely to be moved by the latest frame because they are stabilized by the attitudes they have developed in prior phases of the campaign. There are promising hints in over-time studies that longer-term exposure to debate (beyond the short-term campaigns simulated in experiments) could gradually familiarize motivated individuals with both sides of the issue and diminish the subsequent influence of one-sided frames.
Survey evidence indicates that political corruption is more prevalent in Africa than in any other global region, though there is also evidence of considerable variation between countries in degrees of corruption and where it is most likely to be located. Traditional explanations for the frequency of corrupt political behavior emphasized the effects of conflicting values that were a consequence of the imposition of modern forms of bureaucratic government upon societies in which authority rested upon personalized relationships. Contemporary African corruption’s historic roots and its variation across the continent may be the effect of the disjuncture or “incongruency” between colonial and successor postcolonial states and the precolonial political settings upon which they were imposed. Modern neo-patrimonialism is a coping response by rulers and citizens to conditions fostered by economic scarcity and institutional incapacity. Since the 1990s, democratization and liberalization have supplied fresh incentives and opportunities for venal politicians and officials. And even among Africa’s more capable and resourceful states, the institutional fluidity generated by democratic transition and economic reform has opened up possibilities of systematically organized state capture. Consequences of corruption certainly further impoverish poor people, and it is likely that corruption also limits economic growth and distorts government efforts to promote development. It is arguable that in the past, corruption may have helped to facilitate political stability but this is less likely in 2018, as evidence emerges of its corrosive effects on public trust in institutions. African anti-corruption efforts are constrained by the extent to which political power is exercised through patronage but there are instances of successful action, sometimes the byproduct of factional struggles within the political elite. As of 2018, there is no clear evidence of trends in success or failure in the work of African anti-corruption agencies.
Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
Timothy Hellwig and Dani M. Marinova
Connections between the economy and vote are commonly invoked to evaluate political accountability in representative democracies. A principal motivation for studying economic voting lies in its value as a gauge of whether democracy works or not. In recent years, however, researchers have cast doubt on the assertion that economic conditions influence voters’ evaluations of political incumbents.
Criticisms hail from several directions. Some, adopting a cross-national perspective, cite the instability problem as evidence against economic voting’s existence. That is, variance in the economy-vote relationship across different national contexts is sufficiently large so as to undermine claims that the economy registers a systematic effect. Other critics charge that the electorate lacks sufficient knowledge to incorporate economic conditions in their decisions at the polls. Still others remind us not to mistake correlation for causation. They charge that the voters’ perceptions of how well the economy is performing are viewed through a pre-existing partisan lens. All told, these and other reservations cast doubt on the use of economic voting as a means to evaluate accountability and, in turn, democratic performance.
These charges against the fidelity of economic voting require further examination. Rather than join a growing chorus of observers concluding that the economic vote is a chimera, this piece posits that recent critiques should push us to reconceive rather than discredit economic voting. Recent work in psychology and behavioral economics provides a basis for constructive and meaningful reinterpretations of the economy’s influence on voter decisions. These new directions include an emphasis on framing effects—be it on the part of strategic elites or from the media, an emphasis on what voters know about the economy, and a wider consideration of just which “economy” matters to which set of voters. While many in number, each of these new directions advance understanding by embodying deeper conceptions of voters and elected officials.
Richard R. Lau
A decision strategy is a set of mental and physical operations that a decision maker uses to reach a choice among two or more alternatives. Once the alternatives have been identified, a decision strategy involves gathering information about at least some of the different alternatives under considerations and making judgments about them. A decision strategy will include a mechanism for selecting the best alternative—for example, select the alternative with the highest probability of success. Decision strategies differ along two primary dimensions: how much information is gathered, and how comparable that information is across alternatives. Four major types of decision strategies include classic rational choice (relatively deep search, equally distributed across alternatives), confirmatory motivated reasoning (relatively deep search, unequally distributed across alternatives), fast and frugal (relatively shallow search, equally distributed across alternatives), and heuristic-based intuitive (shallow search, unequally distributed across alternatives). Although standard rating scales have been developed to help ascertain which strategies a decision maker prefers, the best method for determining which strategy is being employed is to directly observe information gathering while the decision is being made. An important task for future research is to more clearly explicate the situations when different decision strategies perform particularly well or particularly poorly.