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Article

The Decision to Vote or to Abstain  

Elisabeth Gidengil

Why voters turn out on Election Day has eluded a straightforward explanation. Rational choice theorists have proposed a parsimonious model, but its logical implication is that hardly anyone would vote since their one vote is unlikely to determine the election outcome. Attempts to save the rational choice model incorporate factors like the expressive benefits of voting, yet these modifications seem to be at odds with core assumptions of rational choice theory. Still, some people do weigh the expected costs and benefits of voting and take account of the closeness of the election when deciding whether or not to vote. Many more, though, vote out of a sense of civic duty. In contrast to the calculus of voting model, the civic voluntarism model focuses on the role of resources, political engagement, and to a lesser extent, recruitment in encouraging people to vote. It pays particular attention to the sources of these factors and traces complex paths among them. There are many other theories of why people vote in elections. Intergenerational transmission and education play central roles in the civic voluntarism models. Studies that link official voting records with census data provide persuasive evidence of the influence of parental turnout. Education is one of the best individual-level predictors of voter turnout, but critics charge that it is simply a proxy for pre-adult experiences within the home. Studies using equally sophisticated designs that mimic the logic of controlled experiments have reached contradictory conclusions about the association between education and turnout. Some of the most innovative work on voter turnout is exploring the role of genetic influences and personality traits, both of which have an element of heritability. This work is in its infancy, but it is likely that many genes shape the predisposition to vote and that they interact in complex ways with environmental influences. Few clear patterns have emerged in the association between personality and turnout. Finally, scholars are beginning to recognize the importance of exploring the connection between health and turnout.

Article

Democratic Norms and Religion  

Gizem Arikan and Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom

In research on religiosity and support for democratic norms, two major debates stand out: The first concerns whether some religious traditions, such as Islam or Orthodox Christianity, are inherently undemocratic, and hence whether supporters of these traditions have antidemocratic orientations. The second debate is about whether religious orientations beyond religious identification foster or hinder support for democratic norms. Both debates may be resolved by conceptualizing both individual religiosity and support for democratic norms as multidimensional orientations. At the individual level, religiosity consists of belief, behavior, and belonging dimensions. Support for democratic norms consist of overt approval of democracy as the ideal system of governing the country and intrinsic support, which refers to an understanding of democracy as being primarily associated with liberal-democratic norms and institutions such as popular sovereignty, political equality, civil rights, and free elections. Religious belief is negatively associated with over support, and religious social behavior is positively associated with overt support. Yet, there is some evidence that the effect of religious social behavior on intrinsic support for democracy may not be positive. Recent scholarship is also interested in identifying the psychological mechanisms through which different religiosity dimensions affect support for democratic norms, as well as establishing the causal effects of religiosity dimensions by experimentally manipulating different facets of religiosity. Although the multidimensional approach to religiosity provides a general framework that explains the effect of religiosity on support for democratic norms, there is still substantive variation across time and different contexts to be explained. Avenues exist for future research in terms of theorizing and identifying the moderating effects of different factors, most obviously the religious context and the influence of religious elites and social networks.

Article

Direct Democracy and Political Decision Making  

Shaun Bowler, Reagan Dobbs, and Stephen Nicholson

Direct democracy in the United States is the process whereby voters decide the fate of laws, through either an initiative or a referendum. Initiatives allow voters to approve or reject a policy proposal, whereas referendums permit voters to decide the fate of laws passed by the legislature. Although some high-profile ballot measures, especially those related to ‘moral’ issues, may induce people to vote, most ballot measures are unfamiliar to voters and so have a limited effect on participation. Rather than mobilizing voters, the more choice confronting voters faced with ballot measures is whether to “roll-off” or abstain from voting on them. The subsequent decision, how to vote, is intimately related to the decision over whether to vote and is largely motivated by the same factors. In deciding whether and how to vote, voters must know what a ballot measure is about, discern the political motivation underlying it, and match that information to their political predispositions to cast a Yes or No vote; otherwise they abstain. The more voters know about a given proposition, the more likely it is that they will vote and, furthermore, that the vote they do cast will reflect their underlying political values. In contrast both to the claims made by many critics of direct democracy and, also, some current studies in political science, votes in direct democracy are often underpinned by substantive, policy-based considerations. Voters are thus capable of meaningfully participating in the direct democracy process.

Article

Do Campaigns Make a Difference?  

Paul Whiteley

The study of political campaigns is very varied in the political science literature. On the one hand, campaigns can involve groups of citizens working together on a local issue of concern to them, such as preventing an airport expansion from threatening their community. Only a relatively few people are likely to be actively involved and the goals of such a campaign are fairly clearly defined and limited. At the other end of the scale a campaign can consist of a broad social movement that is trying to influence public opinion and bring about changes in public policies on really big issues like climate change and global warming. Large numbers of people are likely to be involved and the goals are broad and ambitious. In between these two extremes, a whole range of campaigns with different objectives and strategies are to be found in contemporary democracies. This article focuses on election campaigns which are in an intermediate position between these two. Early research suggested that such campaigns were not very important but subsequent research shows that they are influential both in increasing turnout and changing the party choices that individual electors make.

Article

Don't Expose Yourself: Discretionary Exposure to Political Information  

Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes

The news media have been disrupted. Broadcasting has given way to narrowcasting, editorial control to control by “friends” and personalization algorithms, and a few reputable producers to millions with shallower reputations. Today, not only is there a much broader variety of news, but there is also more of it. The news is also always on. And it is available almost everywhere. The search costs have come crashing down, so much so that much of the world’s information is at our fingertips. Google anything and the chances are that there will be multiple pages of relevant results. Such a dramatic expansion of choice and access is generally considered a Pareto improvement. But the worry is that we have fashioned defeat from the bounty by choosing badly. The expansion in choice is blamed for both, increasing the “knowledge gap,” the gap between how much the politically interested and politically disinterested know about politics, and increasing partisan polarization. We reconsider the evidence for the claims. The claim about media’s role in rising knowledge gaps does not need explaining because knowledge gaps are not increasing. For polarization, the story is nuanced. Whatever evidence exists suggests that the effect is modest, but measuring long-term effects of a rapidly changing media landscape is hard and may explain the results. As we also find, even describing trends in basic explanatory variables is hard. Current measures are beset with five broad problems. The first is conceptual errors. For instance, people frequently equate preference for information from partisan sources with a preference for congenial information. Second, survey measures of news consumption are heavily biased. Third, behavioral survey experimental measures are unreliable and inapt for learning how much information of a particular kind people consume in their real lives. Fourth, measures based on passive observation of behavior only capture a small (likely biased) set of the total information consumed by people. Fifth, content is often coded crudely—broad judgments are made about coarse units, eliding over important variation. These measurement issues impede our ability to answer the extent to which people choose badly and the attendant consequences of such. Improving measures will do much to advance our ability to answer important questions.

Article

Dynamic Process Tracing Methods in the Study of Political Decision Making  

Philip Chen

Understanding how individuals make political decisions in a complex and ever-changing world requires recognition of the dynamic nature of the environment, as well as theoretical and methodological strategies to address these complications. As the scholarly understanding of the limits of human cognition expands, researchers can no longer rely on decision-making models that assume unlimited time, resources, and/or abilities of voters. Fortunately, dynamic process tracing models demonstrate the information processing component of decision-making, turning the focus away (slightly) from the decision outcome and toward the ways that people come to these decisions. These models derive from weaker, but more accurate, assumptions about the cognitive abilities of humans and provide critical insight into both the factors that voters consider when making decisions and the ways voters incorporate those factors into their decisions. In addition, thanks to the work of Lau and Redlawsk, these processes are directly observable with their Dynamic Process Tracing Environment (DPTE). Researchers relying on dynamic process tracing models are now able to assess the influence of political and demographic factors on the pattern, content, and amount of information voters access and rely on when making political decisions. These models offer a more realistic view of voter abilities than rational choice models, as well as providing greater insight into the process of decision-making (rather than the outcome of the process) than much of the work deriving from the Michigan model of public opinion. Additionally, the DPTE offers advantages over earlier static information board studies. Rather than seeing one’s self in conflict with decades of public opinion research, however, scholars in the dynamic process tracing tradition would be wise to consider their work as complementary. A focus on political variables as outcomes misses a crucial cognitive step: the evaluation of environmental stimuli through the lenses of short- and long-term predispositions. As scholars seek to understand why voters possess certain attitudes, they should ask how those attitudes were formed in the first place. Dynamic process tracing models allow for theorizing about and empirically testing components of the decision-making process previously left uninvestigated.

Article

Economic Globalization, Democracy, and Political Behavior  

Jack Vowles

The implications of economic globalization for economic policy, social policy, and party government have been well researched. But until recently one important topic has been relatively neglected: the effects of the process on mass political behavior, political parties, and electoral competition. As in the broader literature, two opposed theoretical approaches stand out: one inferring that globalization imposes “constraint” on actors, and the other that it generates incentives for efforts to “compensate” those disadvantaged by the process. Work on economic voting has established that economic globalization reduces the apparent effect of economic performance on vote for or against incumbents, although the explanations and implications remain a matter of debate. Testing expectations that economic globalization produces neoliberal party policy convergence within countries produces mixed results, some confirming and others refuting the claims of constraint theory. While there is an association between high levels of economic globalization and lower electoral turnout, an expected microlevel linkage by way of external efficacy has not been established. While economic globalization produces winners and losers, its effects on social and political cleavages vary between countries, although there is some evidence that economic globalization helps to promote the salience of a universalist/particularist or open/closed cultural cleavage. The ability to generalize from the research so far is somewhat limited by much of the literature’s European focus. Theoretically, there is a need to move beyond the constraint/compensation debate, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis (GFC), as a result of which globalization stalled and in some respects, began to retreat. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown even more doubt on the future: the ‘high years’ of globalization may now be behind us, but the research questions thrown up by the process should remain alive and well.

Article

The Economic Voter Decides  

Mary Stegmaier, Michael S. Lewis-Beck, and Lincoln Brown

In democracies, we elect our political leaders by choosing among a rival set of candidates or parties. What makes us pick one over all the others? Do we carefully weigh the platforms of all the candidates and then select the one closest to our personal desires? Or, do we select the candidate our friends and neighbors recommend? Perhaps, even, to save time, do we just vote for the same party we did last time? All of these are choice strategies, and there are many more. Here we focus on a well-known explanation of how voters decide, commonly called the Michigan Model, so named for the university where it was developed, in a path-breaking scholarly volume—The American Voter. The authors systematically gathered data, via scientific survey research, on individual voters in American presidential elections, measuring different traits, perceptions, and attitudes that they hypothesized might influence vote choice. They arranged these different factors, or variables, into long-term forces and short-term forces that acted on the voter, and could be arrayed as if they were spread along a funnel of causality: from more remote, fixed variables, such as social class or party identification, to more proximate, fluid variables, such as issue preferences and candidate attributes. All these variables generally mattered, but those that concern us here deal with issues, in particular economic issues. How do voter evaluations of the economy help the voter decide what party to favor? Is it the national economy or the pocketbook that counts? How important are economic issues compared to other issues? What conditions make economic considerations more (or less) impactful? Does economic voting operate differently in different countries? These and other questions are addressed herein, with special attention to three leading democracies where economic voting has been heavily studied—the United States, Britain, and Germany. As demonstrated, economic considerations are pervasive and powerful elements in the democratic voter’s calculus.

Article

Electoral Choice and Religion: Israel  

Asher Cohen and Menachem Lazar

Among Israel’s Jewish society, which constitutes about 85% of the county’s voter base (about 15% are Arab voters), voters’ level of religiousness is considered, in relevant fields of research, the strongest predictor of voting behavior as well as of a wide range of political attitudes. Most prominent is the very high correlation found between a high level of religiousness and hawkish right-wing political positions, and vice versa: a secular self-definition is a very good predictor of dovish left-wing approaches. A vast majority of voters defining themselves as religious support the Likud and right-wing parties belonging to the Likud’s bloc. Conversely, a large (if not decisive) majority of voters defining themselves as secular vote for central and left-wing parties. In the 21st Knesset elections that took place in April 2019 it became clear that the bloc consisting of the Likud, further right-wing parties, and religious parties, have a significant structural advantage over the central-leftist bloc. The rightist bloc won 65 mandates compared with 55 for the center-left bloc (the Knesset—the Israeli parliament, has 120 seats), despite the fact that the rightist bloc lost at least five potential seats due to religious voters who supported extreme rightist parties that failed to pass the electoral threshold.

Article

Electoral Choice and Religion: Turkey  

Ali Çarkoğlu

With a conservative party in power since 2002 that has its roots in the pro-Islamist movement, the influence of religiosity upon party choice has attracted a lot of attention in the literature on Turkish elections and voting behavior. However, this literature uses measures of religiosity that change from one study to another and hence diagnosing trends over time or assessments concerning the influence of religiosity remains challenging. This article aims to first review the findings concerning the effect of religiosity upon party choice in Turkey. Second, using the Turkish Election Studies data for four general elections in the 2002–2015 period a unified comparable framework is adopted to evaluate the changing nature of the influence of religiosity upon party choice. The findings reached suggest that religiosity remains a potent variable in shaping party choice. However, over time and across parties its influence varies. A sectarian divide between the Sunni majority and the Alevi minority also appears to be useful especially differentiating the left-leaning main opposition party. This sectarian divide also seems to be shifting over time.

Article

Electoral Clientelism and Vote Buying  

Anand Murugesan

Political competition between parties to win electoral support is a distinguishing feature of democratic forms of government. Parties seek to attract electoral support with programmatic promises (public goods, services) for the benefit of all citizens as well as targeted redistribution in several countries, broadly termed as “clientelistic linkages.” Cash, gifts and nonmaterial goods such as jobs, exclusive access to public services are forms of clientelistic goods discussed in the literature. Studies on clientelism have spiked since the last quarter of the 20th century in several disciplines including political science and economics. The studies have clarified the definitions and distinguished between the various forms of clientelism while shedding light on how parties decide to adopt the clientelistic approach, the form of benefits offered, whether groups or individuals are targeted for clientelistic benefits, the mechanisms that solve the political commitment problem inherent in clientelistic relationships, and the correlates and consequences of clientelism. The section on theory outlines a spatial model that predicts when political parties will target swing or core supporters for redistributive benefits. The advances in empirical methods for studying clientelism and vote buying, including experimental methods have provided evidence that politicians target swing or core supporters and at times adopt mixed strategies favoring both groups. The burgeoning empirical literature has clarified the effectiveness of vote-buying as well as anti-vote buying campaigns. A direct relationship between poverty and vote buying is now contested and it is evident that further research, particularly those tying up theory with empirical findings is required to understand clientelism and vote buying.

Article

Electoral Volatility in Latin America  

Miguel Carreras and Igor Acácio

Latin American political systems experience significant levels of institutional uncertainty and unpredictability. One of the main dimensions of this institutional and political instability is the high level of electoral volatility in the region. In the last 30 years, traditional parties that had competed successfully for several decades abruptly collapsed or weakened considerably in a number of Latin American countries. New parties (or electoral movements) and political outsiders have attracted considerable electoral support in several national and subnational elections in the region. Even when the main partisan actors remain the same from one election to the next, it is not uncommon to observe large vote swings from one established party to another. While some scholars and observers expected that the instability in electoral outcomes would decline as democracies aged and consolidated, electoral volatility has remained high in recent decades in many Latin American countries. However, in other Third Wave Latin American democracies (e.g., Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Uruguay), the patterns of interparty competition have been much more stable, which suggests we should avoid blanked generalizations about the level of party system institutionalization and volatility in the region. Cross-national variation in the stability of electoral outcomes has also motivated interesting scholarly work analyzing the causes and the consequences of high volatility in Latin American democracies. One of the major findings of this literature is that different forms of institutional discontinuity, such as the adoption of a new constitution, a significant enfranchisement, electoral system reforms, and irregular changes in the legislative branch (e.g., a dissolution of Congress) or in the executive branch (e.g., a presidential interruption), can result in higher volatility. Another major determinant of instability in electoral outcomes is the crisis of democratic representation experienced by several Latin American countries. When citizens are disenchanted with the poor performance and moral failures (e.g., corruption) of established political parties, they are more likely to support new parties or populist outsiders. Weak party system institutionalization and high electoral volatility have serious consequences for democratic governability. Institutionalized party systems with low electoral volatility promote consensus-building and more moderate policies because political parties are concerned about their long-term reputation and constrain the decisions of political leaders. In contrast, party systems with high volatility can lead to the rise of outsider presidents that have more radical policy preferences and are not constrained by strongly organized parties. Electoral volatility also undermines democratic representation. First, the fluidity of the party system complicates the task of voters when they want to hold the members of the incumbent party accountable for bad performance. Second, high instability in the patterns of interparty competition hinders citizens’ ability to navigate programmatic politics. Finally, electoral volatility augments the cognitive load required to vote and foments voter frustration, which can lead to higher rates of invalid voting.

Article

Emotions in Foreign Policy Decision Making  

Rose McDermott

There are lots of ways that emotions have been studied in psychology and various ways that their use has been examined in the context of foreign policy. Perhaps one of the most useful ways to examine the influence of emotion on foreign policy is through the lens of risk and threat assessment. Some approaches to emotion tend to categorize emotions as valence-based, in terms of broad-based positivity or negativity. Certainly, elements of this kind of approach can be useful, particularly in terms of thinking about the ways in which political conservatives appear to have a negativity bias. However, an investigation of discrete emotions allows a more sophisticated and nuanced exploration of the effect of emotion on risk analysis and threat assessment, in particular the effect of fear, anger, and disgust on decision-making under conditions of risky threat. Genetic, as well as environmental, circumstances can influence individual variance in the experience and expression of such emotions, and any comprehensive approach to understanding the influence of emotion on decision-making should take all these factors into account.

Article

Enduring Questions and Unsatisfactory Answers About Direct Democracy  

Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan

Direct democracy elections bring into sharp focus several enduring questions about the role of voters in elections. Questions of voter competence, majority rule, spending effects, and process concerns are all highlighted. Many of these questions form the basis of often very pointed debates within the literature. The study of direct democracy throws into sharp relief some of the most enduring questions relating to elections and electoral democracy. So far, however, the answers have not proved satisfying to many observers. In some cases, these debates have persisted despite an accumulation of empirical evidence that would seem to resolve the issues. Contrary to the claims of repeated criticisms, voters are capable of voting on ballot propositions in accord with their own interests and are supportive of the process as a means of making decisions. While direct democracy does have its flaws, the flaws identified by many critics are not really as damning as the critics would seem to believe. For whatever reason, however, the criticisms repeat.

Article

E-Participation  

Marta Cantijoch and Rachel Gibson

The study of e-participation is a young and growing discipline in which controversies are vibrant. One of these is the lack of a widely accepted definition of “e-participation.” Online political activities that involve little effort from the participant, such as liking or sharing political content on social media, are particularly divisive. Some scholars are reluctant to label expressive forms of online behavior as political participation. Others argue in favor of an adaptation of previous definitions to accommodate recent technological changes. Levels of engagement in different types of e-participation are increasing steadily over time. While differences between democracies are often stark, the upward trend has been consistent, especially since the emergence and expansion of social media. Whether this means that previously unengaged individuals are now taking part is one of the central questions of the literature on e-participation. To date, research has shown positive but modest results in support for a mobilizing effect. Particularly promising are findings suggesting that online tools are attracting younger participants to the political arena. Online forms of political engagement are often placed in a more general process leading to online and offline political participation. “Lean-forward” models that provide a contextualized understanding of the drivers and effects of e-participation are particularly insightful. In order to provide robustness to some of the questions that remain unresolved, scholars exploring e-participation should consider expanding their methodological repertoires. The trend is toward mixed designs that combine surveys and other forms of data (big data collected from social media or qualitative data).

Article

Equivalency Framing in Political Decision Making  

Asmus Olsen

Politics is increasingly reliant on numerical descriptions of the world. Numbers are relied upon for their ability to communicate some unambiguous facts of life. Equivalence frames are equivalent descriptions of the same quantity and they help us understand how different ways of presenting the objectively same piece of numerical information affect political behavior. Equivalence framing effects denote that these different presentation of the fundamentally same fact have very profound effects on preferences. However, most research in political behavior have relied on other forms of framing and largely regarded equivalence framing as a well-defined concept without much relevance to real-world politics. The standard form of equivalence framing changes the valence of a label which describes the same numerical fact. This form of negative and positive framing of the same metric will often elicit very different responses for the recipient of the information. A less studied type of equivalence framing in political behavior manipulates the same numerical fact but with a different metric or scale. These have often not been explicitly recognized as equivalence frames but are clearly an important example in a world of numbers. As for valence manipulation, changing the metric can also have profound effects. Moving forward studies of equivalence framing must both gain a better descriptive understanding of the actual use and abuse of equivalence frames in observational setting and at the same time aim to understand the causal properties of equivalence frames in the field—outside the controlled environment of the survey or lab where they most often are studied.

Article

Ethics, Corruption, and Integrity of Governance: What It Is and What Helps  

Leo Huberts and André van Montfort

Ethics, corruption, and integrity do matter for society and are relevant topics to take into account in the research (and practice) of public administration and governance. The many views, perspectives, and interpretations that are available with respect to these issues can be integrated in a challenging framework. This framework takes the concept of integrity of governance as a starting point, with a focus on relevant moral values and norms for political and administrative behavior and a discussion of various forms of integrity violations in the public sector. Based on a large amount of research on “what helps to protect integrity and prevent integrity violations,” it specially pays attention to integrity management and integrity systems. The framework concerning ethics, corruption, and integrity of governance offers starting points for formulating an agenda for the future. This agenda should express the desirability of both an “integrity turn” in public administration and political science and an “empirical turn” in integrity research.

Article

The Ethics of Voting  

James Stacey Taylor

The first question that is often raised in a discussion of the ethics of voting is whether or not there is a duty to vote. The view that there is a duty to vote is supported by two main arguments. The first holds that since the value of democratic governance is high persons should vote to preserve stable democracy. The second is that there is a duty to vote because if nobody voted the effects would be disastrous. The first of these arguments is criticized by Jason Brennan, who holds that since each individual vote will play little to no role in preserving stable democracy nobody has a duty to vote. The second is criticized by Loren Lomasky and Geoffrey Brennan, who argue that it is incomplete unless its supporters can show that democracy needs everyone to vote to continue. The question of whether there is a duty to vote naturally leads to the question of whether it is permissible for persons to vote in their own self-interest. Jason Brennan argues that persons should only (morally) vote for candidates or policies that they are justified in believing would promote the common good. It is unclear, however, what “the common good” consists of. This discussion of the morality of voting in one’s self-interest leads to the question of whether voting for a politician because she has made campaign promises is morally analogous to a voter selling her vote. In discussing this issue it is important to distinguish between the “restricted” defense of markets in votes (that the purchased votes are to be cast in favor of what the buyer is justified in believing is the common good) and the “unrestricted” defense of such a market (that purchased votes can be cast in any way the buyer pleases). Much of this discussion focuses on the morality of unrestricted markets in votes. Christopher Freiman has offered four main arguments in favor of such a market: (1) that it will make both the buyer and the seller better off; (2) that it is required by respect for voter liberty; (3) that it is relevantly similar to other practices that are currently allowed, such as logrolling; and (4) that it would enable electoral outcomes to better express voter preferences. None of these arguments are persuasive. The first is based on illicitly inferring from the claim that persons would voluntarily buy and sell votes if a market were allowed to the claim that they would thereby desire that this market be allowed. The second argument is flawed because if some persons would prefer that a market not be allowed, this could provide a sufficient reason to restrict their liberty by precluding them from selling their votes. The third argument overlooks important disanalogies between votes traded between voters, and votes traded between legislators. The fourth argument is based on the implausible assumption that vote sellers would not misrepresent their political preferences in a market for votes.

Article

Evolution and Political Decision Making  

Anthony C. Lopez

The application of evolutionary theories or models to explain political decision making is quickly maturing, fundamentally interdisciplinary, and irreducibly complex. This hybridization has yielded significant benefits, including real progress toward understanding the conditions under which cooperation is possible, and a clearer understanding of the apparently “irrational” drivers of political violence. Decision making requires a nervous system that conditions motivation and behavior upon adaptively relevant cues in the environment. Such systems do not exist because they maximize utility, enlightenment, or scientific truth; they exist because on average they led to outcomes that were reproductively beneficial in ancestral environments. The reproductive challenges faced by our ancestors included not only ecological problems of predator avoidance but also political problems such as inter-group threat and the distribution of resources within groups. Therefore, evolutionary approaches to political decision making require direct and deep engagement of the logic whereby natural selection builds adaptations. This view of human psychology yields valuable insights on the domain specificity of political decision making as well as the psychological consequences of mismatch between modern and ancestral environments. In other words, there is accumulating evidence that many of the complex adaptations of the human brain were designed to solve the many problems of ancestral politics. This discussion begins by distinguishing evolutionary approaches from other frameworks used to explain political decision making, such as rational choice, or realism in international relations. Since evolutionary models of political decision making have now produced decades of original theoretical and empirical contributions, we are in a useful position to take stock of this research landscape. Doing so crystalizes the promises, perils, and scope of evolutionary approaches to politics.

Article

Expected Utility and Political Decision Making  

Jona Linde

Expected utility theory is widely used to formally model decisions in situations where outcomes are uncertain. As uncertainty is arguably commonplace in political decisions, being able to take that uncertainty into account is of great importance when building useful models and interpreting empirical results. Expected utility theory has provided possible explanations for a host of phenomena, from the failure of the median voter theorem to the making of vague campaign promises and the delegation of policymaking. A good expected utility model may provide alternative explanations for empirical phenomena and can structure reasoning about the effect of political actors’ goals, circumstances, and beliefs on their behavior. For example, expected utility theory shows that whether the median voter theorem can be expected to hold or not depends on candidates’ goals (office, policy, or vote seeking), and the nature of their uncertainty about voters. In this way expected utility theory can help empirical researchers derive hypotheses and guide them towards the data required to exclude alternative explanations. Expected utility has been especially successful in spatial voting models, but the range of topics to which it can be applied is far broader. Applications to pivotal voting or politicians’ redistribution decisions show this wider value. However, there is also a range of promising topics that have received ample attention from empirical researchers, but that have so far been largely ignored by theorists applying expected utility theory. Although expected utility theory has its limitations, more modern theories that build on the expected utility framework, such as prospect theory, can help overcome these limitations. Notably these extensions rely on the same modeling techniques as expected utility theory and can similarly elucidate the mechanisms that may explain empirical phenomena. This structured way of thinking about behavior under uncertainty is the main benefit provided by both expected utility theory and its extensions.