Tuesday, April 10, 2012
4:00 pm

Ulric B. and Evelyn L. Bray Seminar in Political Economy

Substituting the End for the Whole: Why Voters Respond Primarily to the Election-Year Economy
Gabriel Lenz, Assistant Professor of Political Behavior, American Politics, University of California, Berkeley
According to numerous studies, the election-year economy influences presidential election results far more than cumulative growth throughout the term. Here, we consider results from a series of surveys and experiments that point to an intriguing explanation for voter behavior. Voters, we find, actually intend to judge presidents on cumulative growth. However, since that characteristic is not readily available to them, voters inadvertently substitute election-year performance because it is more easily accessible. This “end-heuristic” explanation for voters’ election-year emphasis reflects a general tendency for people to simplify retrospective assessments by substituting conditions at the end for the whole. Our explanation also suggests a remedy, a way to align voters’ actions with their intentions. Providing voters with the attribute they are seeking — cumulative growth — eliminates the election-year emphasis. Our findings thus provide insights into both the underlying causes and potential solutions to a long-standing problem with democratic accountability.

Link to PDF: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7536991/sefw/sefw.pdf

Contact Edith Quintanilla edith@hss.caltech.edu at Ext. 3829
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