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Article

Voter Behavior in Latin America  

Matthew M. Singer and Gabriela Ramalho Tafoya

Voter choices in Latin America have structural roots that are similar to what is observed in other regions, but these structures are weaker and more fluid than in more established democracies. In particular, while cleavages emerge in the average Latin American country and voters’ choices vary across demographic traits, issues, ideologies, and partisanship, these cleavages are weaker than in Western Europe and the United States. These cleavages are particularly weak in countries where parties do not take ideologically distinct positions from each other and instead emphasize clientelism, which suggests that the overall weakness of these cleavages in the hemisphere reflects the weak commitment of political parties to programmatic competition. Elections in Latin America are strongly shaped by government performance, especially economic trends, but these forms of accountability are weakened in countries where the party system makes it hard to identify the degree to which any specific party is able to dominate the policy process or where identifying a credible alternative to the incumbent is difficult. Thus, while voters are trying to use elections to hold politicians accountable and to ensure that their policy preferences are represented, the weaknesses of Latin America’s party systems often make this difficult.

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

Dead Ends and New Paths in the Study of Economic Voting  

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.

Article

Gender and Political Behavior  

Miki Caul Kittilson

The burgeoning field of gender and political behavior shows that the way in which ordinary citizens connect to the democratic process is gendered. Gender differences in voting behavior and participation rates persist across democracies. At the same time, countries vary substantially in the size of these gender gaps. In contemporary elections, women tend to support leftist parties more than men in many countries. Although men and women vote at similar rates today, women still trail men in important participatory attitudes and activities such as political interest and discussion. Inequalities in political involvement undermine the quality of deliberation, representation, and legitimacy in the democratic process. A confluence of several interrelated factors (resources, economy, socialization, political context) work together to account for these differences. Today, scholars more carefully consider the socially constructed nature of gender and the ways in which it interacts with other identities. Recent research on gender and political behavior suggests that political context affects different kinds of women in different ways, and future research should continue to investigate these important interactions.

Article

Political Attitudes and Behavior Under Autocracy  

Michael Bratton

Knowledge about mass political attitudes and behavior derives mainly from studies of established Western democracies. But do populations under autocracy engage in the political process and, if so, do they support or challenge the status quo? Much depends on the nature of political regimes. To the extent that spaces for political expression are closed under autocracy, citizens face an unpalatable choice between political acquiescence and violent protest, with all the risks that such options impose. A key question for researchers is whether participants in authoritarian politics are active citizens or mobilized subjects. Survey evidence suggests that some people may be willing to grant legitimacy to strong leaders and to trust the institutions of a dominant state. Others nevertheless find ways to engage in conventional political behaviors such as discussing public affairs, taking collective action, and turning out to vote in elections, especially under hybrid competitive authoritarian regimes. Under what conditions do citizens sometimes rebel against entrenched authority? Regime type again seems to matter, with popular protest more common under open than closed systems. With reference to prodemocracy social movements, like the Arab Spring of 2011, analysts debate whether people take to the streets principally for reasons of rational self-interest or propelled by emotions like anger. And scholars explore the effects of new information and communications technologies, finding mixed results for political mobilization. As emphasized in the literature on contentious politics, the displacement of autocratic regimes from below is likely only if social movements build strong and sustained political organizations.

Article

Race, Ethnicity, and Political Behavior  

Aida Just

Whether as a consequence of colonialism or more recent international migration, ethnic diversity has become a prominent feature of many contemporary democracies. Given the importance of ethnicity in structuring people’s identities, scholars have sought to incorporate ethnicity in their models of people’s political behavior. Studies focusing on individual support for group interests among ethnic minority members find that higher socioeconomic status generally leads to a reduced emphasis on ethnicity in forming individual political opinions. However, this relationship is often considerably weaker among ethnic minorities with frequent experiences of discrimination, pessimistic assessments of equal opportunities in a country, and social pressures from group members to comply with group norms. Research also shows that in comparison to majority populations, members of ethnic minorities are generally less active in politics, more likely to use contentious forms of political action, and support left-wing political parties that promote minority interests. Key explanations of differences between ethnic minorities and majorities in Western democracies focus on the importance of individual and group resources as well as political empowerment via representation in policymaking institutions, usually enabled by higher shares of minority populations within electoral districts.

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

Strategic Voting Versus Sincere Voting  

Damien Bol and Tom Verthé

People do not always vote for the party that they like the most. Sometimes, they choose to vote for another one because they want to maximize their influence on the outcome of the election. This behavior driven by strategic considerations is often labeled as “strategic voting.” It is opposed to “sincere voting,” which refers to the act of voting for one’s favorite party. Strategic voting can take different forms. It can consist in deserting a small party for a bigger one that has more chances of forming the government, or to the contrary, deserting a big party for a smaller one in order to send a signal to the political class. More importantly the strategies employed by voters differ across electoral systems. The presence of frequent government coalitions in proportional representation systems gives different opportunities, or ways, for people to influence the electoral outcome with their vote. In total, the literature identifies four main forms of strategic voting. Some of them are specific to some electoral systems; others apply to all.

Article

Party System Polarization and Electoral Behavior  

Ruth Dassonneville and Semih Çakır

When deciding whether to turn out to vote and what party to support, citizens are constrained by the available options within their party system. A rich literature shows that characteristics of this choice set, which capture how “meaningful” the choice is, have pervasive effects on electoral behavior and public opinion. Party system polarization in particular, which captures how ideologically dispersed the parties are, has received much attention in earlier work. More ideologically polarized party systems are associated with higher turnout rates, while both proximity voting and mechanisms of accountability appear strengthened when parties are more ideologically distinct. However, party system polarization also strengthens party attachments and entails a risk of fostering mass polarization.

Article

The Political Effects of Religious Cues  

Aubrey Westfall and Özge Çelik Russell

Religion is a central and comprehensive identity for billions of people all over the world. Politicians and other political actors recognize the vitality of religion and use it for political purposes, deliberately signaling religion, religiosity, or religious values and connecting them to political outcomes or behaviors in an effort to influence the political preferences of religious practitioners. The most efficient way to make the connection between religion and politics is through religious cues. Religious cues create information shortcuts linking religious identity or values with a political candidate or issue. Religious cues are used by political and religious actors in secular and religious contexts and are typically one of two general types: identity cues, which engage an individual’s religious identity and activate an in-group/out-group effect, and linkage cues, which link religious values or beliefs with an issue or candidate. Identity cues are particularly tricky to use in secular contexts because they have been shown to have strong alienating effects on nonreligious people, thereby defeating the intended purpose of the cue sender. For this reason, coded religious language called “implicit cues” is used with greater frequency in political discourse where only the religious cue receiver recognizes the religious cue for what it is. This strategy allows a political candidate to reap the benefits of the cue without risking alienation. While scholars have made substantial progress in using experimental methods to disentangle the ways religious cues influence political behavior, there is ample opportunity for more research exploring different types of religious cues and the way they interact with other forms of cues and identities. Furthermore, most of the research on religious cues has focused on Christian cues in the United States, and a more diverse range of religions and contexts should be explored to understand the way religious cues influence political behavior. Researchers should also expand the definition of “religious practitioners” to explore how religious cues influence the growing number of people who do not affiliate with a religion or engage in practices traditionally associated with religiosity but do identify as religious. This would help to expand conceptualization of political behavior to more accurately reflect lived political experiences. Embracing these opportunities will allow the scholarly community to gain a better understanding of the varied political dynamics of religious cueing, which offers insights into how fundamental identities and attitudes are linked, thereby shedding more light on the complex dynamics of political behavior.

Article

Political Behavior of Sexual and Gender Minorities  

Royal G. Cravens III

From the late 20th and into the early 21st centuries, scholars in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) politics have produced a substantial body of literature that explores and explains the political attitudes and behavior of sexual and gender minorities. The interdisciplinary nature of the field is reflected in the broad range of approaches and theories that attempt to explain political phenomena among LGBTQ people. The majority of the literature reveals sexual minorities to be politically distinct from heterosexuals, in that sexual minorities are more ideologically liberal and, in the United States, more likely to support Democratic partisans. Largely because of heterosexism, sexual and gender minorities are also more likely to participate in political activities that directly implicate their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as volunteering with LGBTQ interest groups or attending “Pride” events, although sexual orientation and gender identity are significant predictors of a variety of attitudes and behavior. Recent research has demonstrated that LGBTQ people also participate in politics by running for office, mounting legal challenges to discriminatory laws or government actions, and collectively organizing locally, nationally, and internationally. Explanations for LGBTQ political distinctiveness have concentrated in three broad areas: selection, embeddedness, and conversion theories. While studies have provided supportive evidence for each hypothesis, the field has also increasingly turned to intersectional evaluations that admonish researchers to interrogate intragroup LGBTQ behavioral and attitudinal heterogeneity more fully. The infusion of intersectional theory into LGBTQ political research has revealed attitudinal and behavioral distinctions among sexual and gender minorities centered on axes of race and ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, and income, among others. The critical importance of disentangling the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, the recognition of cross-cutting structures of oppression such as homophobia, sexism, and racism, and the emergence of subfields of LGBTQ political behavior are indicative of a burgeoning field of study. Looking to the future of LGBTQ political research, the political successes of the LGBTQ movement and evolving conceptions of sexual and gender identity have necessitated a reevaluation of LGBTQ political behavior in the 21st century. The continued diffusion of same-sex marriage, the electoral capture of LGBTQ voters, and the destabilization of identity categories that has been demanded by queer theory all pose unique challenges to the future of LGBTQ politics and political mobilization around the globe.

Article

Social Structure and Voting Choice  

Oddbjørn Knutsen

The linkage between voters and political parties is to some degree based on stable social cleavages. Such cleavages express important and lasting societal divisions, allow parties and voters to establish long-term ties, and provide incumbents with clear representative and policy-making tasks against which they can be evaluated. Most research on cleavages has been based on the classic cleavages that were outlined in the Lipset-Rokkan model for social cleavages in industrial societies. These are: (1) the center–periphery cleavage, which is anchored in geographical regions and related to different ethnic and linguistic groups as well as religious minorities; (2) the religious conflict between the Church and the State, which pitted the secular state against the historical privileges of the churches; this cleavage has more recently polarized the religious section against the secular section of the population; (3) the class conflict in the labor market, which involved owners and employers versus tenants, laborers, and workers; and (4) the conflict in the commodity market between buyers and sellers of agricultural products, or more generally, between the urban and the rural population. Other social cleavages, such as gender, educational differences, and new divisions within the large new middle class, have been focused upon during the last decades. The new divisions within the new middle class are “horizontal” conflicts and can be conceptualized as a basic conflict between public and private employees, and as an alternative way of conceptualization, between those who work within technical, organizational, or interpersonal service environments. Some of the cleavages have declined in importance over time, while others have increased. Some cleavages have changed character such as the class cleavage where part of the new middle class has voted for the New Left and part of the working class has voted for the New Right in the last decades. Changes in the impact and character of different cleavages have resulted in strategic reconsideration of important policies and changing location of the parties in the political space.

Article

Populist Politics in Africa  

Danielle Resnick

Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.

Article

Outcomes of Political Decision Making  

Marcus M. Weymiller and Christopher W. Larimer

“Decision outcomes” refers to mass political behavior as well as decisions by elites in the policy arena. Such outcomes are naturally the product of the decision-making process, a process that has been informed considerably by research in areas outside of political science. Political and policy processes are less defined by rational responses to incoming information than by pre-existing cognitive biases favoring narratives, stories, and symbols. Thus, to accurately understand decision outcomes requires an interdisciplinary approach, and, indeed, the discipline of political science has increasingly incorporated insights from psychology, social psychology, sociology, behavioral economics, and other social and natural sciences. Decision outcomes may reflect the true preferences of decision-makers, but behavior and outcomes have also been shown to change dramatically depending on who knows (or will know) the decision. Considering decision outcomes as the dependent variable, several factors have been identified that consistently and significantly shape outcomes in the political and policy worlds. Political outcomes, such as voting (by citizens and elites), are often explained by focusing on party ID or partisanship, and for good reason, but there are also instances in which decision outcomes are better encapsulated by more localized factors or influences. Policy outcomes, on the other hand, are less easily defined or predicted. Emotional testimonies and random fluctuations affect whether an issue is acted upon by a legislative body. Attention to social context and a concern for fairness is a primary driver of decision outcomes in social situations. In particular, leader–follower dynamics and group outcomes are significantly affected by the process in which decisions are made.